Local Review: Emily Merrell – Masks
Local Music Reviews
Emily Merrell = Solange + Emily King + Janelle Monáe
If you know anything about Emily Merrell, you know she has a lot to say. But when she says it, she’ll express it with just the right amount of passion, beauty, color and artistry. If you don’t know anything about Emily Merrell, you should, and you can start with checking out her new album, Masks. It’s an intricate and beautiful account of the human experience, bursting at the seams with layers of sound and texture.
Masks is a step in a different direction for Merrell because, contrary to the jazz flavorings of her last album, she’s now fused a pop element into her sound. Here, Merrell mixes electronic sounds and synthesizers with clean jazz guitar and piano. When listening, it’s clear there was a lot of structural thought that went into the sound and writing of the voice leading, chord structures and melodies of these songs. Merrell wrote a lot of sonic intricacies into Masks that run in contrast to her lyrics. Some of the songs that have dark lyrics have bright music—like the music is a mask for the narrative the vocals are expressing. The song “Unknown” is upbeat and energetic, but it consists of sharp and bold lyrics expressing a dark, fearful narrative. At one point, Merrell sings, “Finally find a way to stay unknown when blood runs cold / Bones won’t hold your soul / Can you face the dark alone?”
One of Masks’ highlights is “Mother,” which is the album’s last song before the bonus tracks begin. It’s stripped back, a different tone than the rest of the album takes. “Mother” is mostly composed of Merrell’s sparkly vocals and Kevin Judd‘s absolutely stunning piano playing—it’s breathtaking and heartbreakingly beautiful. In particular, the way Merrell displays her vocal range here is powerful. There are a number of artists out there that stay pretty neutral in their vocal ranges to get more of a vibe-y type of sound, and then there are artists like Merrell who use the very top and the very bottom of their range to say something and bring a different level of passion into the sound. She demonstrates how, sometimes, the harder a vocalist stretches for that outside note, the more meaning it has.
There’s a song for every emotion on this album, and I think Merrell would say there’s a song for every “mask” you’re wearing on any given day. I think that the phrase “album release” is an understatement in this case, as there’s a whole digital world of art behind each song, a line of merch, a coloring book and, overall, a lot more to look into. Visit the album’s special interactive webpage to be a part of the experience. –Mary Culbertson