Review: Emily King invites us into her whimsical world on Scenery

The singer/songwriter brings glamour and depth to love and heartbreak, sidestepping hackneyed lyrics and bringing magic to the mundane

Rating: NNNNN

What whimsical world does Emily King exist in? 

On her latest studio LP, Scenery, the New York singer/songwriter invites us into that romantic universe.

With her sparkling 80s-R&B-evoking voice, King sounds like she emanates music rather than sings it. Long-time cohort, producer and guitarist Jeremy Most clearly understand where King comes from as an artist, pairing her soul, indie and pop-spanning sound with idiosyncratic yet robust production. 

In a lesser writer’s hands, love songs could convey hackneyed lyrics about desire and heartbreak, but not King. She adds magic to the mundane, cracking it open to reveal multifaceted nuances: longing, pleasure, resentment, jealousy and also self-love. 

This being King’s first album on independent label ATO, she sounds as if she’s relishing the freedom to walk her own sonic path, not that of contemporaries like Alicia Keys, whom she’s often been compared to. 

Opener Remind Me is about feeling alive again after heartbreak. Teach You’s bright, tropical sound softens the stern lessons she gives a lover about loving her better. But then, on Can’t Hold Me, she flips it to show how she’s learned to love herself better, no longer needing a lover to provide her what she needs. 

Look At Me Now is a plucky anthem where King boastfully drives around with the windows down, right before her braggadocio crumbles, laying bare the sadness underneath. “Look at me. Aren’t I fabulous?” becomes “Please see me. Why wasn’t I good enough?” It shows King’s ability to weave each song with undercurrents of narrative, emotion (both said and unsaid) and intimacy.

King’s cinematic imagination comes to life on Caliche, a story about being lost in life, paired with Most’s exotic production: complex rhythms, hushed vocals and whoops and hollers in the distance, like the sombre flip side to Lionel Ritchie’s All Night Long. 

King’s glamorous love anthems are gracefully saccharine-free – not an easy feat.

Top track: Caliche

Emily King plays the Mod Club on February 4. 

@nowtoronto | @ChakaVGrier

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