Ever wondered if it was possible to musically blend together the programmed, mechanical sounds of keyboards and laptops with the warmth of human emotion? You can stop wondering. Emma Howett has achieved it with real skill on this wonderful album. The singer and frontperson for Chevy Chase Stole My Wife has made an accomplished, assured second solo album that’s shot through with an instinctive nouse for pure pop. Here, synth burbles, pulsing electro throb and laptop swirls are blended perfectly with acoustic and electric guitars and heartfelt vocals. The sound mix on the album is especially good; the different elements are balanced together perfectly with none of them dominating and all complimenting each other. The “real” instruments and electronics are blended with such skill, it becomes impossible to know what’s live and what isn’t. This isn’t the brittle, hyper-compressed, airless sound of current pop; it is something much more natural and warm. This reflects the album’s main theme of being both vulnerable and shameless at the same time. Emma has written a set of songs that reflect on her relationships and her place in the world, with the endless optimism and insecurity of the hopeless romantic. Let’s listen to some of the songs..
Opening track, the wonderfully named “Click Track Heart” is upbeat pop that combines Goldfrapp vocals with soaring guitar and pulsing keyboards. Hard doubt appears in “Oh My Fucking God Emma”, as our heroine reviews her own sense of underachievement by comparing herself to her contemporaries (never a good idea, mental health fans). She’s accompanied by a backing of jagged keyboard lines punctuated by distorted shrieks, but fortunately pulsing, funky bass and catchy keyboard hooks sweeten the anguish. “I’ll Do My Own Stunts” gently arrives on subtle conga rhythms as flute lines weave in and out of lightly burbling synths. Layered harmony vocals and some great fretless bass playing add to the sense of insecure regret. “Schrodinger’s Heart” has a dark throbbing verse which gives way to a sunnier chorus with strings. “You’ve been more a devil on my shoulder than a lesson to be learned. Schrodinger’s Heart: a question in a box. You both love me and you don’t” Emma sings, contemplating an inconclusive, unsatisfying relationship. “Get You Drunk” is about an attempt to unlock someone and get to know the real them, and then, maybe, who knows where it’ll all lead…? It’s upbeat melody and acoustic guitars are contaminated by an underlying darkness of synth chords, hinting at lots more going on under the surface, which fits the lyric. “I want to find out what you’re like before I give you up. Just one more drink. Move a little closer to me.”
Hey! It’s “Inevitable”, a big swaggering pop track! With a squelchy bassline and a modern disco beat, as fluttering synth notes and whirling dragonflies go past. “No-one ever buys me flowers! My inevitable lover, it was always gonna be you”, Emma delights. The song dances out of here on a stomping groove, a Peter Hook bassline and a proper old-school fade out. And it’s all the better for it, I could’ve taken another minute or so of dancing to that groove. Penultimate song “Home”, is a classic torch song of love, with a slow swinging rhythm and arpeggio guitars with a 1950s delay effect on their sound. This sounds a bit incongruous alongside the electropop, and the way the song is mixed doesn’t quite work for me as it builds towards a big climax, reaching for something genuinely epic that it doesn’t quite manage to pull off. So, how to follow that? Emma uses a reworking of “Schrodinger’s Heart” refashioned as a beautiful piano ballad, as a wonderful downbeat way to close the album. Nothing here but her voice, the piano, and her own hummed harmony. This so, so easily pulls off the epic feel, both musically and emotionally, that “Home” can’t quite manage despite all it’s power and bluster.
As the album ends, I’m left wondering: “Will there be gigs?” Some of these songs seem made to be danced to – a combination of soul baring ballads and dancing grooves – it’d be quite a concert… Well, often synthpop can sound cold, detached and rather brittle but with this album Emma Howett shows a great knack for making the burbling synths sound warm and emotional. “Super Awkard!” – thoughtful, playful, adult, funny, emotionally true and musically surprising. I love it.
By: Eastside Jimmy
Find out more
Bandcamp: https://emmahowett.bandcamp.com Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/us/album/super-awkward/1638940155