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Emily King - Scenery Music Album Reviews

The New York singer-songwriter’s third album maps life’s changes to sleek, vibrant R&B that’s packed with 1980s soundtrack flourishes and big moments; it’s the perfect frame for her extraordinary voice.

It’s the time of year to wonder: What would happen if we packed up our shoes and moved to grassier pastures? If we got some fresh sunshine on our bones, would everything be warmer and sweeter? With her new album, Scenery, Emily King reports yes, with delicate murmurs and melty calypso rhythms. King just moved from the Lower East Side block she’s lived on her whole life to Woodstock, got a car and some wind in her hair, like “one of those scenes from the ’80s.” Then she whipped around the next week and wrote “Remind Me,” the stirring electro-R&B first song on Scenery. The album could be a daydream soundtrack for King’s imaginary movie. There are twinkling guitars, earnest and anthemic resolutions, a silky touch, a backwards glance, and wistful sentiment for the present.

A decade into her career and now on her third album, King’s distinctive, breathy staccato seems to have found a suitable ecosystem. Since 2007’s sincere East Side Story and 2015’s flirtatious The Switch, King has stretched a bit. Having found a frothy groove in her intricate blend of R&B and soul, she sounds like she has room to breathe. The unassuming, seductive “Caliche” could be a study in vocalizing a soft touch. There’s a cotton-candy composition to King’s voice: It’s full and crystalline and sweet and floating. In Scenery, she skips around closely held R&B harmonies, navigating vintage synths in “Remind Me” and sparkling guitars “2nd Guess.” If King’s voice seems to flit on gentle tiptoe, it’s with balletic athleticism. She’s trained enough to make it look like she’s floating.

For all the softness of her tone, King has a taste for the declarative. In keeping with its ’80s-soundtrack DNA, Scenery has many big moments. On “Go Back,” King even does a touch of Springsteen. The guitars are rousing, the cymbals crashing, and the breaks are tough. Her controlled hesitations show the double bind of leaving home: regret and resolve. When she promises, “I’ll never go back,” you can hear that this might not be true, that she’s singing this because she wants it to be true. If King’s lyrics go for the universal, she relies on her extraordinary vocal skill to add lifelike texture. She also leaves room to get weirder, if she wants. The album is fantastic in its stranger moments: In the yearning, sexy “Foregiveness,” while lawn sprinkler clicks keep the time, King gearshifts between quick enunciations and desperate, elongated syllables. It’s fantastic.

Scenery rings with the thrill of a new start, with the nostalgic satisfaction of slotting moments of life into their respective chapters. The organization of Scenery scatters the notion that this all might be linear. It zigzags thematically, from a lover’s snuggle (“Blue Light”) to deeply felt reckoning (“Foregiveness”). The album closes with a fantastic oh-you’re-something-special-can-I-buy-you-dinner seduction (“2nd Guess”) and then the fist-clenched goodbye of “Go Back.” An album’s gotta end sometime, but these songs, two of the record’s most propulsive, seem to grab us by the arm to yank us into the shimmering neon starlight—and then it’s all over. If it’s good enough, the audience will linger through the credits. King could let it linger a little more.

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