It’s hard trying to describe “Sadcore” to anyone not that invested into the minutiae of music genres. My “to-go” definition always is in the region of “slow tempo with a few bits of experimentation. Uh, heavy debt to Americana and Country too!”
It’s not that helpful a definition, taking into account the befuddled faces of many an innocent who asked a music junkie like me. Still, I’ll bandy it to define the 6 tracks from Emma Swift‘s long awaited (1) mini-album, Emma Swift.
The artwork of an album can be deceiving, indifferent or honest. The stark, desaturated front cover just shows Emma Swift in a pensive pose. Or is it mournful? Or is it regretful? A ballpark figure could easily fall in any of those categories and from the initial notes – a lap steel, of course!- you know wistfulness abounds. ‘Bittersweet’ has it and does not shy from making it a statement. It’s not an overtly emotional confessional, but it is a reflective piece, like those thoughts flying like white butterflies when you are trapped in a long commute back home.
‘Woodland street’: a prayer, possibly unanswered, for a last walk with someone. Or maybe a walk away from that someone, after sauntering by Woodland Street on a clear Autumn afternoon. What is certain is – something is amiss now and the only catharsis is found through a lovely ditty.
Hey, here’s a thought: pacing is everything. It works in films, novels and music. A short song can feel plodding if badly paced. A long song can just breeze by in the right hands. Here’s another thought: people can assume this is a Country/Americana album just by the first two songs alone. ‘King of America’ is where these thoughts come to play. The pacing is just right: it’s a long song and it might test some people’s patience, but I’m not amongst them. It’s also similar to Country and Americana, but it doesn’t fit that bill so easily. It’s a Sadcore song and while that genre adores good ol’ Country, it loves to smoulder through your senses too, taking its sweet time to drive the point home. Emma Swift‘s ‘King of America’ is just that – a long journey that can feel cyclical, but always has a little thing going on. What’s that? Some sort of echo pedal being fiddled? Is that lap steel guitar just creating atmospheric swells and doing arabesque spins? Yes to all. And there’s more, but you need to hear it. If you ever thought “man, I miss Idaho and Red House Painters” well, they aren’t here but I’m certain you can put this song in a mixtape with those two soundfiends and get away with it.
Speaking of pacing, I’m sure I’m boring y’all by now. ‘Seasons’ seems to be the more positive one in the sextet, but I’m not so sure with the last lyric, that “and I remember when you looked at me in the Spring.” Maybe our protagonist has fell in love with one of those “boys of summer” that run away once the leaves turn yellow, brown and gold. ‘James’ is so lovely you hope all doubts can be drowned in a sea of deep Americana meditative notes. Oh, and that solo is sheer poetry.
Now, someone once told me that the problem with songs heavily based on love and emotions is that the protagonist (i.e. the character the singer has created) tends to be on the innocent side of The Blame Game. I might be paranoid, but I feel that in ‘Total control’, there is no blaming, only regret. A heavy dose of mea culpa when admitting “I sold my soul for total control.” A damning statement but sometimes you just gotta admit you mess up to start the healing process.
Let’s not fuck around a cold, hard truth: we all want to slowly walk away as the sun sets down with our arm thrown over the shoulder of The One while the squeals of that guitar from the Top Gun anthem lets everyone in a 3 mile radius to know we are winners. That is a nice daydream but we rarely win and, honestly, we rarely lose that hard that we need a “woe is me” violin chord.
However, we do get a lot of disappointments in life and perhaps that’s why the sounds of Country and Sadcore can resonate so well with the despondent, with those whose life isn’t what they expected, but it’s a life nonetheless and below the sadness, they are enjoying being alive. The 6 tracks explored in the slightly stark but totally wistful self-titled mini-album by Emma Swift are the songs for the ones living from paycheck to paycheck, looking forlornly to the happy couples in the booths in any bar and walking alone back home, with maybe an extra drink waiting for them back home. Listen to this mini-album and chase it with Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Mark Kozelek, Actual Wolf, Grant Lee Phillips and Big Star. Because they all belong in the same shelf.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López
1 – No, really, I’ve been pestering the poor woman on twitter for ages about when this one was going to drop.