EP Review: Emil & Friends / Downed Economy
Reviewed by: Dorise Gruber
Emil & Friends’ Myspace page describes their sound as Indie/Electro/Jam Band, which aren’t really three genres I’d ever think to combine. While I might not use the latter of the three to describe the sound (I don’t think that they’re very “jammy”), I would call this smartly crafted EP, Downed Economy, a hippie’s gateway album to electroclash. Local Boston boy relocated to NYC, Emil Hewitt has produced a funky and rousing EP that’s like smooshing together your Pure Funk cd and your MGMT disc – a recipe for the start of something awfully interesting.
In the first song and title track, “Downed Economy,” Emil is playful with voice, synth, and straight-up funk. One of my two favorite songs on the EP, it has a bubbly bass balanced by a sharp catchy snare and a lighthearted hook. The lyrics reflect the creative process and struggling artistry, crooning “why must everything feel/like an uphill battle/i wanna make a tape for/my best friend’s label.” The lyrics aren’t especially advanced, but they’re not designed to be the focal point of this song – instead, it is the Emil & Friends unique electronic music style that captures its audience.
The second track, “Short Order Cooks,” breaks in like a futuristic version of a 90s R&B song with a “Let’s Get it On” feel. It is at this point on the disc that we discover Emil & Friends have even more depth than the EP’s beginning suggests. The pattern of this album teeters between dance-funk and electro-jazz, rotating the bouncy tracks with more ambient tracks such as this one.
Just when it seems like we’re going back to the funk, “Fire Flower/Interlude” emerges as one of the two smoothest songs on the EP. Emil irons and lengthens his vocals so they stretch and yawn over the sleepy track. While this song busts out a couple tricks that you could possibly find scattered in other House techno, I think what makes this song particularly unique are the lovely vocals that ride out over the song. The Interlude closes out the last minute and a half of the track, and while I’m not often keen on lyric-free electronic music, he makes it so sweet and orchestral it’s a nice mini-break from the rest of the unconventional sound of the cd.
The funky tone of the EP is revived when “Specialty Sandwiches” comes on, which unlike “Downed Economy,” rides a heavier bass and a deeper drum, but still brightens the track with it’s fun synth, hip vocals, and even some video-game-like effects.
Emil then slows down the album once more with “Out West,” the other really atmospheric song on the album, and probably the one track where there is more emphasis put on the story of the song than on the music itself. The tale of a strange boy and a naive girl united and then parted, the calm sound doesn’t distract from the tale, but rather keys you in with its haunted harmonies.
Emil & Friends flip the tone once more to the final truly sunny number, “Josephine,” a modern-disco love song that echos Daft Punk a bit in style, but is a little looser with its effects. The lyrics are cute and don’t take themselves too seriously, and my favorite silly line is “when I hear her coming around I run to the window like an ice cream truck.”
The final song, “The Shrine,” has a lot of beauty to offer. It starts out almost like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia,” but quickly transforms into what might be the prettiest song on the album, and the one with the most commercial appeal (especially for anyone who, like me, is a sucker for mixed-tape references). Like “Downed Economy,” the lyrics relate back to the process of being a musician, but in this song Emil avers that despite wandering across the country to make money and indeed wanting to be cool, without someone to share it with, fame and fortune just don’t matter. While similar to “Out West” in that the lyrics are the focal point of “The Shrine,” here it’s really less about the story and instead more focused on traditional, skilled, vocals. This is the first time that Emil doesn’t rely on the experimentation infused throughout the album: he has such an angelic voice, he can sign off on this pure note, which, next to “Downed Economy,” is my other hands-down favorite.
If you’ve been feeling in a musical rut lately, make sure you nab the Emil & Friends Debut EP, Downed Economy, when it’s released by Cantora Records on September 28th. It’s the most inspired, fresh new sound I’ve heard in awhile. If you’re in the Boston area, make sure you catch the show at the Middle East Upstairs on Wednesday, September 8th. In the meantime as a bonus, check out the Emil & Friends cover of Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” here. It’s just as fun and nearly as catchy as the original, but with distinct, effortless vocals and style. Enjoy!
For more on Emil & Friends or to purchase the EP visit visit Emil’s MySpace page here