Emily Wells - Promise
“If I were to love you / I would surely lose you” asserts Emily Wells on Promise. These lyrics describe the impossible tensions forming the backdrop to the Texan singer-songwriter’s second album, where she bares her own emotional state while delivering instructional messages for us all.
Wells combines multiple art, literature, and genre influences including classical, folk and soul, against a stylisation of, in her words, “layers of repetition, disrupting then building again”. Supporting Wells’ story of relationship, uncertainty and yearning is her own deep instrumental vocabulary from classical violins to contemporary keyboards – her description as a multi-instrumentalist is much deserved.
Wells begins her story lamenting the titular ‘Los Angeles’ on the opening track, her soaring voice asserting “My love is here” and describing a deep relationship, an uncertain moving on, and a plea for things to remain the same. We’re also alerted the journey will reward careful listening as it fluctuates between love and loss. ‘You Dream of China’ progresses the geography but the yearning remains for a person who refuses to answer the telephone, downgrading a tangible connection to intangible. Wells’s layered vocals conduct a conversation with one another as they shift a granular picture between time and place.
Wells continues to reveal her genre influences and instrumental vocabulary. Soul is a running theme with recurring refrains familiar – sometimes literally so – to gospel choirs with “We went down to the water to be baptised” in ‘Don’t Use Me Up’, allowing her to describe her background alongside her message. This gospel motif escalates in ‘Take it Easy’ where she almost prays “Can you please take it slow / Can we please take it away” as drums instrumentally realise a church choir. Wells playing most of these instruments herself escalates them to accompanying voices, discordant drums and plaintive violin all the more personal in the almost lullaby ‘Come to Me’, her physical voice is reminiscent of performers from Joanna Newsom to Lana Del Rey but rarely allows pinning down. ‘Falling on It’ combines familiar elements over thick layered orchestration and soulful gospel rhythm, with less familiar synthesised voices describing a tension between times.
‘Light is Drainin’’ bravely ends matters in an uncertain manner with Wells having never found what she’s been looking for. But she’s wiser for her experience having come to terms with her situation outside of her faith, realising she’ll have to make her next journey alone. High-mixed vocals on-top a classical backdrop close “Come on come on come on girl there ain't nothing we can do / Maybe he's just sleepin there but that night it'll come for you”. Time to brush oneself down and prepare for the next road ahead.
Promise is Wells’ emotional state bared for all to see, but loaded with instructional messages to enable us to cope.