Written by: Dave Cantrell
If, with an intention to impugn or indict what’s currently available to our ears, anyone around you utters that hoary old, old-man bromide ‘They don’t make music like they used to,’ they are wrong. And lazy. Dead wrong and dead lazy, meaning their senses have, as is said, ‘been put to sleep.’ By contrast, should one be the least bit alive and curious – I mean, c’mon, the internet? – one will find there is ample cause in the modern musical landscape to swoon. We here at SEM, as does anyone out there in the universe of the eager and at least marginally astute, find multiple opportunities every day, which is, tangentially, the reason we only cover music that we like, music that twigs those same excitable nerves the tweaking of which got us into this whole wonderful obsessive mess in the first place back when we were twelve thirteen fourteen whatever. However, to be clear, there are different levels, ranging from what you might call your common everyday garden swoon, to your damn near drug-like swoon, to your full-out, lose-your-shit swoon, that rarity type that proves the normalcy of this whole ‘swoon’ business. Into that rarefied echelon, svelte of voice, Aretha-natural and Nyro-talented, steps – once again – Emily Rodgers. And while even she may gently disagree with our editorial over-the-topness here, we must respectfully demur.
First brought to our attention via Rodgers’ first Kramer-produced effort 2 Steps in 2016, we were instantly entranced, the voice we heard nearly as compelling as the voice that wrote the songs, commandingly literate not in an academic way but rather an instinctual one, while evincing a sound that somehow managed to feel exquisitely raw, seeming to reflect a fragility that’s gifted with a steely determination to be heard. It’s a record that has stayed with us, that we’ve gone back to, marveling at a resilience that felt always on the crest of a quiet wave, strong and haunting and not a little beautiful even as it’s possibly about to crash. In that state of aching suspension is written the very tension of an intensely lived life and it’s work like that that can draw those that hear it back to it moth-to-flame style. Needless to say, it was also the type work that creates a keening sense of yearning for a next album, EP, home-recorded cassette, anything to allow us to be as tenderly swamped in Rodgers’ world as we were back then. And here comes I Will Be Gone, due this Friday, April 16th on Kramer’s resurrected Shimmy-Disc label. Having premiered the title track a couple months back, we’ve been privy to the full album for a while, and all we can say is we envy those of you about to bask in it the first time. With the narrative arc of the songs focused on her brother’s slide into schizophrenia that, fifteen years go, led to suicide, the shadows of loss, vulnerability, pained but determined acceptance and the willed grace to shepherd it all through the crucible of song, becomes nothing less than an audio quilt of survival. As to what accounts for I Will Be Gone‘s somewhat restless undercurrent, we’ll let the singer’s own words tell that part of the story, how the thing “was written and recorded in my attic in just six days, utilizing lyrics I’d written over the course of the past five years, music by my partner Erik Cirelli, and arrangement and production by Kramer. Because the recording process was urgent and time-limited, there was simply no room for self-censorship or perfectionism and having Kramer involved in my writing process opened me up in ways I could not have predicted.”
The perhaps surprising thing about an artist like Emily Rodgers, whose work could at a first, cursory listen fall into a well-established, trope-laden category that isn’t always known for grabbing one’s attention by the jugular – predominantly acoustic-based, slightly folkish, as earnest as a late summer afternoon’s shadow – is just how easily, how lastingly, they get under our skin. While our head, often distracted, pulled in all those digitally kaleidoscopic directions at once, tries to tell us what we’re hearing is just ‘that’, our far-more-knowing heart stammers in its persistence that, no, it’s actually this. ‘This’ being that notoriously elusive quality akin to spell-casting, hypnosis, and other forms of conscious delirium. In the case of Rodgers’ work, the reflexive urge to refer to it as ‘magic’ feels too easy, too shallow maybe, seeing as how that word invokes tricks in place of natal talent. Mysterious as her songs and their effect on us may be, there are no tricks at play. Rather, it is ‘just’ an artist tapping her prodigious stores of raw creative energy and shaping them into song, ‘simple’ as that.
All said and done, we agree with Kramer. Emily Rodgers is a unique and major talent, an easily stated basic fact that we’re waiting on the rest of the world to cotton on to. But don’t just trust us, trust yourself and let this moving record do the convincing. I Will Be Gone, assured, its wounded, put back together heart scarred just like all of ours are, will, despite its title, not only stand for many years but do so like a refuge.