Drag City

Scout Niblett - It's Up To Emma

Sometimes, the most riveting recordings are born from catharsis, overwhelming events in an artist's life that cannot be contained. What makes them resonate is the way they intersect with the subjective experience of the listener. Scout Niblett's It's Up to Emma fits the bill. The cover photo depicts a couple kissing: the woman's eyes are closed in bliss and hunger, but she's being watched by her object of desire with something akin to curiosity. The album's subject -- a devastating breakup -- not only reflects this but underscores it. These nine songs -- eight originals and a wonderful, if unlikely, cover of TLC's "No Scrubs" as a power ballad -- add up to a reckoning, an exorcism, and a letting go. Using ragged guitar riffs, basic drumming, some raw-sounding strings, and a deliberate lack of subtlety, Niblett goes straight at her subject; in doing so she allows all the emotions surrounding this event equal voice. Opener "Gun," with its brooding, distorted, dirty guitars and sparse yet flailing drums, lays out the all-encompassing, murderous rage that follows deep romantic betrayal, and the lyrics feel unedited to chilling effect. On "My Man," the sound of heartbreak is reflected as pure vulnerability, Niblett's voice moans and expresses desolation while asking questions that she knows are both irrelevant and obsessive. "Woman and Man" is a skittering, martial, angular blues done Niblett style. It asks about the moment the genders come together emotionally, sexually, spiritually. Its drums and guitars bludgeon, then all but collapse in the certain knowledge that the question is existential. "All Night Long," with its guitar acting as a second voice to embolden the protagonist's, has Niblett wailing in a desperate prayer to transcend her situation one way or another. On the set closer "What Can I Do?" there's a light on the distant horizon, past bitterness, anger, wrenching disappointment, and loneliness. The singer croons soulfully about the wish to experience it. She knows healing is possible, and is willing to accept whatever she needs to in order to experience it. As strings, guitars, and even synths swirl, she wills forgiveness and compassion for her former lover. It's Up to Emma comes not just from the heart but from the body, too. When Niblett's guitars crunch or drums thud, they feel like punches and hit that place in the listener. The naked emotion expressed here doesn't exactly make for an easy listening experience, but it's a brave, welcome, and perhaps even necessary one.