Emma Park = Modest Mouse
I once read that sailing is the art of getting cold and going nowhere, at great expense. Backyard Sailing, as Emma Park has proven, is quite the opposite affair. Soothing guitar noodling, a soft mix of vocals and simple, effective drumming make half of this album a relaxing listen, while the other half pulses with energy amid rhythmic guitar jams and distorted fuzz. Emma Park’s music is optimistic, occasionally mathy and always well-polished. The song titles aren’t the only thing on Backyard Sailing that make me smile, so it’s needless to say that Emma Park’s first album is a refreshing, worthy production.
Emma Park simply has an effective style. The guitar licks have a wonderful tendency toward unexpected turn-arounds and melodic counterpoint. Overdubbed vocal choruses and syncopated chords thicken the mix in “GL!HF!DD!” and things get really funky in “Fish Tank!” as the guitars crisply trade eighth notes over a dancy drum track. A firm grasp of the slow build lends Emma Park’s songs a lot of dimension and allows them to seamlessly convey intense emotion. Most importantly, every instrument just seems to fit right into the musical puzzle perfectly. The mastering on Backyard Sailing is dialed in, so I never had to strain to hear an interesting bass fill or any of the lyrics—every voice trades the spotlight without a hitch.
Emma Park is the brainchild of Dodson Hollingshead, and I was extremely surprised to discover that he played every part on Backyard Sailing himself—guitar, bass, vocals and drums. The grooves are so wide open that I feel like I’m sitting in on a live jam session every time I listen. In “Packed like Parachutes,” I can just about hear a conversation take place as the mix gets light, as if it were between band members, before the track takes off into another forest of pulsating guitar lines and powerful bass melodies.
As the album itself would say, “(I) Totesworth.” I enjoyed every bit of Backyard Sailing. Hollingshead packed a lot of spirit into this debut, and it all comes through clearly between the soft, sleepy serenades, as well as the choppy, rhythmic guitar riffs. I’m excited to see what comes out of Emma Park next, but for now, you can listen to the whole album before you decide to pick up your own copy on emmapark.bandcamp.com. –Alex Blackburn