Saturday, November 05, 2005

three emm

Canada's own Emm Gryner is felix's daily starfish and waffles' 2005 Artist of the Year.

Stop the presses! Despite the fact that it's only the first week of November, Emm Gryner has already been unanimously declared as felix's daily starfish and waffles' 2005 Artist of the Year. Congratulations, Emm: you're the winner of what's widely-considered (by me) to be the most prestigious award of musical excellence in the entire universe. (By the way, please drop me a comment and let me know where you want your trophy shipped).

Armed with boundless talent and an admirable do-it-yourself attitude, Emm Gryner is something of an inspiration to indie musicians everywhere. Emm's engaging live shows coupled with the highly creative work she's released on her own label, Dead Daisy Records, has earned her a loyal legion of fans, made her a sustained hit on college radio stations, and even garnered her some ever-elusive commercial airplay. For an indie artist such as herself, the latter is a notable feat, especially when one considers that the "mainstream" music industry today is sadly dominated by money-driven, image-peddling major labels that have effectively crowded out alot of very good music by flooding the airwaves with superficial drivel.

Describing Emm's brand of alternative-pop isn't easy because, like so many top-tier artists, her music is distinctive and unique. According to the bio on her website, Emm Gryner lists a diverse range of artists as influences: Peter Gabriel, The Pretenders, The Cure, Bright Eyes, PJ Harvey, Madonna, Beck, Prince, Guns ’N’ Roses, Tori Amos, and The Eurythmics. From these different influences, Emm has forged her own sound that is at different times melodic, expressive, happy, heartbreaking, and profound, yet never unaccessible. Quite simply, it's a good mix.

But for me, the one thing that makes the diminutive Emm Gryner stand head-and-shoulders above everybody else is the honesty. First, there's the honesty when she's dealing with her fans. Always appreciative and never condescending, Emm is a girl of the people. One example: she's remarkably devoted to posting new entries in her web journal several times a week in order to keep fans up-to-date on her current endeavours. Other artists? You're lucky if they bother to do this several times a year. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but this just goes to highlight Emm's tendency to go above-and-beyond what's expected. And this is something I really respect.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, Emm Gryner's music is honest. I'm not sure, maybe it has something to do with fact that she's both good and keepin' it real at the same time, but whatever it is, Emm Gryner has that rare ability which allows a listener to make each one of her songs his or her own. In other words, there's real depth here, and in a world where shallowness too often prevails, there's something to be said for that.

I, umm, "borrowed" this 2002 photo of Emm Gryner from her official website. Emm, if you're reading this, please do not sue me for copyright infringement. Thanks in advance.

The rural Ontario-based Emm Gryner has two full-length releases to her name in 2005. Songs of Love and Death, an album of Irish covers, was released in January. The Great Lakes, a homemade, limited edition, and autographed(!) album recorded for her Fall 2005 tour, was released in September. Both albums, in addition to her first true full-length LP, The Original Leap Year, are reviewed below for your reading pleasure and enjoyment. Because here at felix's daily starfish and waffles, we exist solely to enhance your reading pleasure and enjoyment. Oh baby.

Songs of Love and Death
Emm Gryner

Songs of Love and Death is Emm's second covers album, the first being 2001's critically-acclaimed Girl Versions. On Love and Death, Emm covers the songs of various contemporary Irish artists, many of which are likely to be unknown entities to the average North American listener. I had only heard a few of the originals myself - and of those, the covers sound markedly different, which is what one would expect from Emm Gryner. Of course, this makes complete sense: I mean, why bother to cover a song if you're only going to make it sound exactly like the original, right? Exactly. I thought so.

As a whole, the album is pretty solid throughout and especially noteworthy is Emm's rendition of "Moorlough Shore" - a diamond of a gem that's worth the price of admission alone, and then some. Love and Death should be available in a record store near you, so go buy it today. Right after you finish reading this feature.

dingobear track selections:

1. Forget Georgia. Originally by Something Happens. Your upbeat opener.

3. Deckchairs and Cigarettes. Originally by The Thrills. Emm's version is better than the original.

4. Breathless. Originally by The Corrs. If there's an original of a cover on this album you might have previously heard, it's probably this one. Fans of the Irish siblings take note: Emm has taken the happy, bouncy single and transformed it into a slow ballad of desperate obsession. You'll love it. Or be mortified by it. Or possibly both.

5. Dearg Doom. Originally by Horslips. As if she didn't know how to play enough instruments already, Emm plays the freakin' harpsichord here! I didn't even know harpsichords still existed outside of the odd museum. Anyway, harpsichords aside, "Dearg Doom" is also one of the stronger tracks on the album.

10. Nowhere. Originally by Therapy?. A catchy, head-bobbing, finger-snapping, toe-tapper. One of the best tracks on the record. "Making up for what you never had / Losing every single thing you ever had / Going nowhere."

11. Moorlough Shore. Traditional Irish folk song. There are numerous recorded renditions (by artists such as Sinead O'Connor, Dolores Keane, Patrick Street, Caroline Lavelle and most recently, The Corrs) of "Moorlough Shore" floating out there, which you may have heard at one time or another. None compare to Emm Gryner's astonishing arrangement. Beautiful, breathtaking and brilliant. I don't have the words to describe it. This is felix's daily starfish and waffles' 2005 Song of the Year. "Well perhaps your soldier boy was lost / While crossing the raging Maine / Or perhaps he's gone with some other love / You might never see him again. / She said, 'If my Irish boy is lost / He's the one I do adore / And seven years I'll wait for him / On the banks of the Moorlough Shore.'"

The Great Lakes
Emm Gryner

Late one night about six weeks ago, I surfed onto Emm's website and noticed she was selling an autographed, limited edition CD of all-new, all-original material for $20. An autographed, limited edition CD of original material from one of my favourite rock stars for $20? A no-brainer, if I ever I had one.

After days of eager anticipation (think Charlie Brown around Valentine's Day), two weeks ago I opened up my mailbox to find a simple, bubblewrap-lined, manila envelope from Dead Daisy Records. Finally! I opened the envelope and with the expected autographed CD came an unexpected autographed note. It read: "hi Felix, thanks for your order! hope Edmonton isn't too chilly. x Emm Gryner"

Up until then, I'd been kind of having a bad day but let me tell you, that handscribbled note sure cheered me up. Remember what I was saying before about Emm Gryner's predisposition toward going the extra mile even when it isn't expected? Before I got the album, I had already held her in really high regard but now she's managed to endear herself to me forever.

Anyway, getting back to the actual CD ... The Great Lakes is excellent. Musically and lyrically, this is Emm's most mature work to date, and this is an album that really wears well with repeated listens. Highly recommended, this is a must-have for big Emm Gryner fans. To the best of my knowledge, The Great Lakes was sold exclusively on Emm's website and I'm not entirely sure the CD is even still available. But if you're interested in picking up a copy, try clicking here, and good luck.

dingobear track selections:

2. Case of Tornadoes. This is one that grows on you. "And then the room would flood with calm / And you'd say that the storm has come and gone / But you'd interrupt my song / I got a case of tornadoes / When you come around."

3. Angeltown. Does sweetness lie around the bend? "I'm flying around wondering how / All your orchards seem to burn into the ground / You're feeling your way through the northern parade / I'm ready now to leave this angeltown."

4. The Crying Rain. Poetry borne from a love gone wrong. "Don't you ask me what the / Dark sorrowed sky is saying / Down comes the crying rain / Weeping in your name."

8. Saturday Night in Nowhere. A dreamy, midtempo track. "Saturday night in nowhere / I wanna leave with you / Tonight."

10. Win The West. Dusty, hazy, forlorn, superb. "Win the west / You'll never come home / To the bitter end you left long ago / How I loved you you will never know."

11. Bulletstorms. There always seems to be an outstanding ballad at the end each Emm Gryner album; "Bulletstorms" keeps the tradition alive. "Clouds meet on the sky / Like cars in sudden death collide / I defend you like a guard / As though angels told me who you are / I opened the door / Saw you've been caught in bulletstorms."

The Original Leap Year
Emm Gryner

Emm Gryner's first full-length release, The Original Leap Year is the most "pop" sounding of all of her records and the one that's most comparable to 2003's brilliant Asianblue*. In spite of its radio-friendly leanings, Leap Year itself was never signed to a major label. However, it did succeed in attracting the attention of the Lilith Fair braintrust and 7 of the album's 12 tracks eventually made it onto 1998's Public, Emm's only major label release (courtesy of Mercury Records, which is now defunct).

Emm would have only been 20 or 21 years old when Leap Year was released but even then, the strength of her songwriting prowess and ear for pleasant-sounding arrangements was evident. Sincere and very personal, this multi-tempoed album is deeply moving in parts. Additionally, there's no filler here at all: each of the 12 tracks is good. Really good. It's not that often you can find an album where you can just put it in your stereo and press play, but Leap Year is one of those albums - and it's a debut indie release to boot. To me, that's remarkable.

If you're a fan of good pop (and in my opinion, truly good pop is rare) and/or an Emm fan, the extra effort it may take to track down a copy of the nine-year old Leap Year will be well worth it. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed.

dingobear track selections:

1. Hello Aquarius. The most pop song on Emm's most pop album, "Hello Aquarius" opens The Original Leap Year with similar flair as "Symphonic" opens Asianblue.

3. The End. The understated emotion of Emm's sparkling voice drips through on this piano-driven track.

4. Your Sort of Human Being. Well-paced, with a good hook.

7. Wisdom Bus. This one would've made a worthy single.

8. 89 Days of Alcatraz. Ahhh, the agony of young love gone wrong.

12. Doomsday. Gorgeous, standout track, the crown jewel of the disc. On the surface, it's just another lovely-sounding, piano-backed Emm Gryner song. However, listen closer and you find a magnificent, deeply touching piece of work that possesses the type of sad, futuristic irony vaguely reminiscent of Radiohead's "Street Spirit" or maybe Fiona Apple's rendition of "Across the Universe." "More than anything I need the last minute of your time / More than anything I need to uncover all that I would hide."

* Asianblue was previously reviewed on felix's daily starfish and waffles.

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