Folk singer Emily Wells’ new album ‘Beautiful Sleepyhead and the Laughing Yaks’ is decent. However, on her MySpace page, the music is listed as ‘folk/experimental/emo’ which is a misleading description.
Apparently, a DJ friend of Wells considers her music a blend of Billie Holiday, Portishead and acoustic guitar. He’s completely correct about the acoustic guitar, but it’s not clear where the other influences come in.
To be fair, the opening track, ‘Mt. Washington,’ does have one depressing emo line as Wells sings ‘We’ll blend together like bleeding lips / And trust that death would be a dying wish.’
The musical stylings seem pretty standard for folk music. Wells sings and plays guitar over mostly simple standing bass and snare-driven drum rhythms.
From time to time, there’s a little piano thrown in (maybe this is the reason for the claimed Billie Holiday influence, since there’s a lot of piano in Holiday’s jazz). Some strings pop in every now and then, as well.
These instruments are standard background-filler in most genres. They are about as experimental as a pancake lover trying a different brand of maple syrup. There are some xylophone-sounding percussion parts at times, and these are at least less common in studio albums.
But a folk fan unaware of the DJ’s claims may find the album enjoyable on its own merit. The album is really mellow and can serve as a not-too-distracting, but still melodic, music to read or do homework to.
Wells’ vocals, in some places are overly whispery and at others a little screechy, but she still shows some talent when she’s singing normally on most of the tracks.
The opening lines to ‘Oh My God I Miss You’ are attention-grabbing but a little confusing. ‘I am a thinkin’ girl / Who never considered God. / Never in the sense you see / Considered him logically.’
Is she saying that she considers it illogical for a person to waste time thinking about the existence of unprovable deities or is she saying that she personally has not taken the time to think about God yet?
The chorus also adds to the confusion as she asks ‘What do you do when you’ve whittled him down / To nothing but a stone in the barren ground? / What do you do when you’ve whittled him down / To nothing but a memory in your hometown?’
This seems to suggest that a logical look at God would result in a conclusion that God does not exist, but how did Wells decide this if she’s never thought about it logically?
In ’50-Year Love Affair,’ Wells sings, ‘Been about 50 years / Even 452 / Coulda loved you longer / Coulda loved you,’ and later follows with ‘You gave to me like a giving tree / Fruit so sweet I go swinging free in your branches.’
In ‘Waltz of the Dearly Beloved,’ she says that ‘I was in love with the sky / It’s like a drug / I was in love with my windshield.’
In a genre that has traditionally focused on lyrical content, it seems like Wells should be a little more clear about what she’s singing about.
While the album’s not particularly bad to listen to, it doesn’t stand out on any level. It isn’t nearly as experimental or hybridized as the artist claims, and also not as catchy or lyrically persuasive as standout folk music.