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Emma Louise - Lilac Everything Music Album Reviews

Using pitched-down vocals, the Australian singer-songwriter finds new folds and textures in traditional pop songwriting with the help of producer Tobias Jesso Jr.

Emma Louise’s enchanting new album Lilac Everything is the product of a handful of successful gambles. The Australian singer-songwriter tried to break herself out of a funk by booking an impulsive flight from Melbourne to Mexico, where she found the inspiration she needed to write most of Lilac Everything. She sent a cold pitch with demos attached to Tobias Jesso Jr., the pop balladeer who’s transitioned to working behind the scenes since releasing his debut album Goon in 2015, and he liked them so much he agreed to produce her album in full. And when Louise and Jesso were just about to finish their sessions together, she asked him to pitch her vocals down, dragging them out of her natural soprano range and into a full, creamy baritone. This series of bold moves has led Louise into uncharted territory; the stark, solitary crooning of Lilac Everything is a far cry from the art-pop that filled albums like 2016’s Supercry.

Louise first played with pitching down her voice while recording her first album, but the idea sat on the shelf until Lilac Everything was nearly complete. “I didn’t want it to be like another character or anything like that,” said Louise in a recent interview. “I recorded it on tape and we slowed it down and I called that voice ‘Joseph,’ and I was like, “I want to do a whole album like this one day!’” She doesn’t sound unrecognizable, but the lower pitch imbues her singing with a dense, mournful quality. (I heard the elegant “Never Making Plans Again” and thought about Adele’s robust lower register, a fitting touchpoint given the diva’s work with Jesso on 25 highlight “When We Were Young.”)

While Louise may not have written and recorded with Joseph in mind, there are a few moments on Lilac Everything in which her original tracking taps into her new voice’s masculine potential. She lags behind the beat and peppers verses with wordless ad-libs on “Falling Apart,” inhabiting a relationship that’s inching towards failure; when she opens “Wish You Well” by sighing “There she is,” you can imagine some bearded loner daydreaming about a woman until the perspective shifts midway through the verse.

The heart of Lilac Everything is the sort of sturdy, elemental pop songwriting that made Jesso a minor star a few years ago, and as a producer, he’s happy to get out of Louise’s way until she reaches an emotional climax. Songs like “Falling Apart” and “Mexico” spring from austere verses—the former little more than a tip-toeing bassline, the latter hanging on diaphanous synths and distant piano chords—into fuzzy, blown-out choruses, and they feel like hard-earned moments of catharsis. The heartbroken melody of “Never Making Plans Again” is afforded space to gracefully unfurl. The clouds even part just as you’re starting to feel sleepy: “Gentleman” is a jaunty, sample-flecked take on a Joni Mitchell travelogue, and the deliberate pacing of “Shadowman” is disrupted by spasming electronics.

Louise’s writing is at its most impactful when she’s fighting to make sense of an ending. What are you supposed to do and say when a relationship has run its course? Sometimes you can see clouds on the horizon: “I feel like one of us is gonna end up far behind the finish line,” she concludes on “Falling Apart.” “I can see it shaping up/Could be some kind of disaster, but I can’t help but wanna see it through.” She finds the grace to wish a lover happiness on “Wish You Well,” even as she admits she’d embrace a fantasy if it meant another chance; on “Mexico,” she has to flee across the ocean to find the peace she’s seeking. And on “Never Making Plans Again,” she’s compelled to give up the careful life she’s led—one spent drawing up strategies “in the schoolyard dirt”—and embrace impulse, if only because she can’t hurt any worse than she does now.

Lilac Everything represents its own kind of ending, albeit a happier one. Louise has made an album on which Joseph takes the lead, and she made it in collaboration with an artist she deeply respects. But you can’t chalk its success up to a vocal gimmick or a star’s touch behind the boards: her writing and singing has never felt this dramatic nor plumbed this depth of emotion. That new level of quality is going to serve her well, even if this ends up being Joseph’s final moment in the spotlight.

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