Band of the Day

2012.08.02

Emily Wells

Ornate, dramatic orchestral folk pop-meets-trip hop, infused with beautiful heartache
Hey kitty, kitty, say it ain't so, I'm driving home tomorrow, losing all my hope. Bottom of the well, and I just lost the rope.
lyrics from Passenger

Born in Texas, Emily Wells fell in love with the violin at the age of four after seeing a young prodigy performing on The Tonight Show. From there, she played in youth orchestras and studied symphonies until she reached her teen years, when she fell in love with classic rock and hip hop. She independently released a number of pop recordings during this time, enough to catch the attention of Epic Records, who offered her a recording contract at the age of 19. Wells turned it down and continued to hone her craft, finally releasing her bona fide debut Beautiful Sleepyhead & the Laughing Yaks in 2007. She has since collaborated with artists as varied as producer Dan The Automator and Portland Cello Project and, in 2012, released her first album for Partisan Records, entitled Mama.

In an alternate universe, Emily Wells would be a star of the classical world. Or she would have been a mainstream success rather than the indie icon she has become.

The 31-year-old multi-instrumentalist started playing violin at the tender age of four and studied classical music and composition. But as she got older, she started getting more inspired by the world of hip hop and found ways to mesh her two musical interests. She got so good at it that Epic Records came knocking on her door, offering the then 19-year-old a record deal.

Instead, she chose to focus on developing more as an artist, and that development has helped her reach some amazing artistic heights. Her second LP, 2008's The Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties found the swarm and swell of the dance floor in her looped violin melodies and lilting vocals. Those ideas have expanded even further on her latest album Mama.

The 10-song collection hearkens back to the heyday of trip hop, when UK musicians tried to fuse hip hop beats with the dramatic swell of soundtrack music and deep blues, folk and soul. It works to Wells' advantage to try and modernize that sound via her innate understanding of symphonic movement and the emotion that can be wrenched out of one simple melody.

"Johnny Cash's Mama's House" brings out a sepia-toned nostalgia with its country-styled bounce, modernized with the warm pulse of synthesizer and dub reggae-like instrumental effects. Even the one instrumental on the album (called, appropriately enough, "Instrumental") layers bits of violin, acoustic guitar and xylophone together before warping them out of focus and adding a beat that creaks like a wooden boat on the ocean. No words are needed; the inner anguish shines out with blinding brightness.

Maybe it's simply the evocative title of this new album or the sweet cover art that features a young baby in a blue dress (Wells, herself?) wearing a pair of headphones, but this album reeks of homesickness and longing for a youth long since gone. Thankfully, there's a hopeful glow to it as well, appreciating those days of yore and how it got Wells to where she is now: ready for the next big step into the spotlight.