What is it with people naming their albums after numbers? ‘Drei’ isn’t even her third one (her second was appropriately called ‘DVA’, but this was followed by ‘Klavírní’…). But back to the point: You can see where this is going before even hearing it: the impassive ice-cold eyes, the cheekbones, the retro-futuristic font… Luckily, I’m a sucker for all that, so let’s jump right in.
Opener, ‘Battles’, establishes a distant, mitteleuropean bleakness that screams Berlin. Every syllable is pronounced and the lyrics are chopped out mid-syllable, giving a ‘Crystal Castles’ sense of edgy unpredictability – albeit less punk. Everything has its place and the overall effect is satisfyingly alienating.
But it doesn’t last – the sparse piano and languishing beats in ‘Destiny Killer’ sound more mid-Atlantic and soulful, which is at odds with the cold Euro-bleeps I’d been gearing up for. Emika certainly has range and isn’t afraid to lay her vulnerabilities bare. ‘My Heart Bleeds Melody’ is an obvious single. The eponymous phrase cadencing pretty much every line. Blunt electro carries the lyrical content, with minimal drums. There’s a sense of ‘Italians Do It Better’ about this, with a strong nod towards the likes of Chromatics and Glass Candy.
‘Miracles (Prelude)’ introduces a male vocal and a glitchy piano sample, bringing to mind Murcof and their ilk. This is a more developed song, which manages to convey just the right amount of menace, augmented by some vaguely off-centre vocal effects.
At this (roughly halfway) point, the album seems to lose its way. ‘Without Expression’ brings back that more soulful vocal style (how ironic), recalling Portishead and, at a push, FKA Twigs. Oddly, Emika straddles the elusive boundary between aloof ice maiden and sultry sex-pot. She’s a little heavy on the FX and some of her production flourishes are a little obvious; reversals and slow-downs aren’t necessary here. ‘Rache’ brings forth yet more tremolo effects and smoky cadences, fat bass and ominous synths. This is where the Portishead aping gets a little too much. ‘Serious Trouble’ is more of the same, albeit more slinky and round-bottomed. That said, I’d listen to this in its own right and not be quite so annoyed by its derivativeness.
The single, ‘Take Me For A Ride’ (bundled separately for some reason) seems to be a remix of ‘My Heart Bleeds Melody’. It’s viable, but just doesn’t have that killer quality that would elevate this album above the myriad female electro artists from the trendier parts of Berlin.
Take Me For A Ride by Emika
What this album lacks in a catchy pop song, it makes up for in production. Essentially, Emika ticks all the boxes for female-led bleak electronica – and she can sing – but lacks the precision of Portishead, the grit of Crystal Castles and the wanton pop melodies of Ladytron. Arguably, Emika is still carving her own niche, but for me, the references are just a little too obvious.
I’m an optimist though: since leaving Ninja Tune to start ‘Emika Records’, perhaps she’ll have the freedom to develop more of a signature sound – and if the production values are maintained, then we might be on to a winner. So watch this space. Best track – no surprises here – ‘Take me for a Ride’ which you can download for free for a limited time (thanks to Mixmag).
Reviewer: Andrew Fletcher