Release Date: Jun 12, 2012
Record label: Talitres
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
West coast balladeer Emily Jane White's third album, Ode to Sentience, makes its home in the place where an irresistible force meets an immovable object, and the two create a deceptive state of seeming stasis. In fact, White's songs take a microscope to the meeting point between the two, documenting the quiet but intense pressure that's being applied there. With her cool, breathy voice, White could easily just coast her way through less weighty concerns and achieve a pleasingly breezy feel, but that's not what she's after.
Ghosts are simultaneous presence and absence, a duality that’s at odds with everything about being human and absolutely captivating because of it. It’s little wonder ghosts have been adopted as a device for novelists, poets, and critical theorists alike, imbue marketing materials for every historical place, and even become a self-promotion vehicle for attention-starved bros. The otherworldly plane is supposed to be frightening, but I’ve always found it sad.
Folk singer Emily Jane White’s last album, Victorian America, was an expansive, lush and bittersweet post-Katrina album that expanded here acoustic songs into larger soundscapes. And while her new record, Ode to Sentience, may not be as ambitious or far reaching, it’s best parts still revel in the same sort of layering and detail. The thumping echo of electric guitars on “The Cliff”, the haunting pianos and strings of “Requiem Waltz”, and the pedal-steel twang of country torch song “Broken Words” all offer compelling shifts on her stately brand of folk.
Brooding, melancholy and languid are adjectives often applied to White’s work and also describe her third release. Strings, barely there drums, pedal steel and electric guitar still leave room for an emotional ambiance that White fills with lilting, near ghostly vocals and almost painfully introspective lyrics. There’s an undeniably unsettled, even creepy gothic quality to her noir approach that takes hold early and gradually ratchets up as the eleven tunes gently tangle and unwind.
There’s a telling moment in “The Law”, one of the most outwardly morose songs on Emily Jane White’s second full-length album, Ode To Sentience. The singer has seen it all– “a glimpse of mortal hell,” “the dark side of the law”– but three verses in, she reveals something that shouldn’t be taken for granted in a song as interior and confessional as “The Law”, and on an album as tirelessly self-involved as Ode To Sentience. The singer reveals that there’s a “you,” that she’s actually talking to someone, or at least pretending to: “Do you dwell alone, in a room of one’s own?” she asks, in a line all too fitting for the Californian songwriter, with her remarkable penchant for gloomy one-liners.