Extraordinary Emilie & Ogden Brings the Harp to Indie Art-Pop

23 Feb

Here’s what I like about KZSU, the college radio station at Stanford University where I’m a DJ on Friday mornings. In our top 10 this week, you can find guitar-driven rock bands such as DIIV and the Besnard Lakes, indie stalwarts such as Deerhunter, dreamy shoegaze bands such as Wray, synth-pop artists such as New Zealand’s Introverted Dancefloor, and art-pop artists such as Julia Holter.

And then there are truly genre-defying artists such as Emilie and Ogden, which in its second week in our fresh collection of new albums, finished at #6 on the chart.

Emilie Kahn is a gifted multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter from Montreal, Canada. She studied music beginning early in her childhood, playing the flute and learning the piano and guitar. But in college, she was inspired to take up the harp and found her calling.

Her accomplished artistry is amply demonstrated on her full-album debut, 10 000.

Emilie has a unique flavor to her vocals — expressive, wistful and often jazzy. Her vocal style is reminiscent of the quirkiness of St. Vincent or the playfulness of Natalie Prass. There are also some similarities to Joanna Newsom, another rock ‘n’ roll harpist who hails from California.

With the help of Ogden (the name Emilie has given her harp) and a small group of supporting musicians, she has created an intriguing album of 11 outstanding art-pop songs.

The album opens with “Blame.” Emilie’s glistening harp sparkles and rings at the top, then flows effortlessly into a lightly tripping, jazzy melody with an off-filter rhythm track.

That’s followed by the title tune, “Ten Thousand,” my favorite on the album. Emilie’s lovely, lilting vocals and precise lyrics lament being unable to woo a lover with her “ten thousand talents.” Again, an arresting rhythm composed of bass drum, tom-toms and snare drum rim shots make this a great piece of art-pop.

Jumping ahead to the fourth track, “White Lies,” we get more great storytelling lyrics and another off-balance rhythm. The song builds in emotional intensity to a big finish as Emilie sings about a cheating lover.

“Long Gone” has a bouncy feeling and presents Emilie at her most playful. Very nice backing vocals on this one.

“What Happened,” the ninth track, opens with ringing notes on the harp and then becomes wonderfully jazzy in a throwback style. One can imagine this being performed in a French café in Montreal or Paris.

Emilie made a splash on the Internet with her cover of Taylor Swift’s “Style” last summer. If you liked that, I strongly recommend you check out her new album, 10 000.

 

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