The first EPs from Emby Alexander painted pictures of baroque pop where it was tough to decide whether it was the band or the listeners who were in need of medication. Nevertheless, there was clearly an awful lot of creativity and imagination on display which makes wonder how they would handle a full album’s worth of material. ‘Frontispiece’ is the vibrant, mind-bending answer, then.
‘Come Breathe The Downstairs Air’ is structurally more coherent than their earlier material. Sure, the song sounds like no other bands (particular the curious female backing vocals) but the set-up of military percussion and a distinguishable verse and chorus show signs of a new maturity. Sometimes, there’s a real sense of “blink and you’ll miss it” since several songs flit by before you’ve had chance to digest them but ‘Sleeping In The Library’ sounds like a drunken children’s choir and ‘Lower Come Closer’ is a twinkling highlight. ‘Don’t Go Bed Tonight’, meanwhile, distills the intensity and passion of early Arcade Fire.
The second half is something else entirely with the band’s theatrical side coming even more into the foreground. The key moment is the seven minutes of ‘E Major Baroque Youthful’, where the group tread a fine line between high camp, madness and exuberant chamber pop. ‘Tallwave II’ heads off into edgy post-punk territory, ‘Lay Your Wet Hair Down’ brings in jingle bells and ‘Losing Your Teeth’ is one of many tracks to feature glockenspiel but its vocal melody and pin sharp guitars certainly provide one of the most enduring moments. Finally, thanks to its stately, trembling piano melodies and wounded singing, ‘Make Me Feel Unsafe Again’ is also a timely reminder that underneath the performance, there are vulnerable humans behind this project.
‘Frontispiece’ is the kind of album you can listen to ten times and still not be able to work out whether you like it or not. Ultimately, I found it equally confusing and fantastic but undoubtedly original and entertaining. For these reasons alone, Emby Alexander should be heard and applauded.
Mystery Jets, Arcade Fire