Release Date: Apr 10, 2012
Record label: Partisan
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
An artist as versatile as Emily Wells is one that should be approached cautiously for a couple reasons. First and foremost, be wary of anyone that fancies themselves a “multi-instrumentalist.” That could (and often does) mean that they picked up a harmonica set at a pawn shop earlier that month. (Fortunately, that’s not the case with Wells.) Second, it’s almost impossible to look at an artist as truly unique as Emily Wells and admire her through an un-opinionated scope.
A common thread in reviews of Emily Wells' work is praise for her innovative approach in fusing classical and hip-hop, but on the basis of her album Mama, Wells' music in 2012 doesn't have much at all to do with classical beyond incorporating violin and cello into her one-woman band arrangements (and there's a long history of strings in pop music), and the hip-hop elements aren't about the formal structures of the genre but rather her fondness for loops, drum machines, and an affected vocal style that combines some of the more theatrical aspects of a number of R&B divas. Ultimately, Mama is an exercise in precocious indie pop with a lo-fi mind set and as much country and folk floating through the melodies as R&B or art music (especially on songs like "Johnny Cash's Mama's House" and "Let Your Guard Down"). As a producer, Wells knows how to conjure a powerful and evocative sound from an admirably odd variety of elements; Mama is full of atmospheric soundscapes constructed from old synths, toys, random sounds, and a shifting array of instruments, and there's a certain rickety quality to the tracks that serves them well, making them sound organic and human despite their clearly electronic origin.
Okay, I’ll state the obvious: the cover art to Mama is awesome. It’s cute, funny, and right from the get-go it gives you the impression that this is a snapshot of Emily Wells as an artist. (That said, I’m not sure the sleeve art is a picture of Wells herself.) The photo looks like that goofy picture our parents keep in the scrapbook despite our multiple pleas for it to be relegated to the trash bin or the furnace; you know, the one where we’re dancing in our underwear or just in general looking silly.