Emilie & OgdenEmilie & Ogden
Album: 10, 000
Label: Secret City
Tracks: 11

OK, first up, Emilie & Ogden is not a standard female-and-male duo act but actually a lady (Canadian singer-songwriter Emilie Kahn) and her (Ogden) harp. So now you’ll know just what to expect, won’t you? – and sure, Emilie’s music conforms to your expectations of a sweet-toned, delicate sound and a singing voice to go with that. But there’s harps and there’s harps… this particular variety, the steely-toned beast, will never be able to escape the overtones of the “angelic” tag, but there’s more tonal interest than just its sweetness, and the intricacy of Emilie’s playing can stop you in your tracks. At the same time, you’ll also harbour certain preconceptions about Emilie’s voice – yeah, it’s “angelic” too – but you’ll find it also has fire and bite, not least if you take the trouble to assimilate her lyrics.

There will inevitably be ready-made comparisons with that other high-profile “lady of the harp”, Joanna Newsom. Superficially, OK, that’s what you see, and there are unavoidable similarities in the ethereal nature of her vocal style, but Emilie’s singing is more consistent and less idiosyncratic, and it’s been said that the honesty of her lyrics is more grounded in reality and the impact of her songs is more cathartic than impressionistic. Take the relationship-disintegration song White Lies, the claustrophobic Hold Me Down or the regretful yet defiant title track, for instance; there’s no navel-gazing self-pity here. Two of the album’s tracks, Babel and Long Gone, are presented in new versions that have been deconstructed and reconstructed from her previous EP release, but not having heard that EP I’m unable to comment further; even so, the songs themselves are typical expressions of Emilie’s concerns and preoccupations and still make their point strongly.

In case you’re wondering, by the way, the pairing of Emilie and the harp as her chosen instrument came out of the blue, when Emilie was entranced hearing Sarah Pagé (of Barr Brothers) playing it alongside her school choir one day. And having made the discovery, it turns out uncanny how closely the two work together, almost as one entity rather than voice and accompanist. This leads me to remark that the impact of this intimate bond between Emilie and Ogden is sometimes diminished by the album’s aural signature, where producer Jesse MacCormack and drummer Francis Ledoux have provided some harshly savvy indie-prog backdrops that IMHO don’t always entirely suit Emilie’s songs or her approach; these enhancements work best when the elements are thoughtfully restrained, as on the shimmering Hold Me Down. Generally speaking, then, I find it’s those songs with less overt sonic intervention (closing track Dream, for instance) which strike home most on first couple of plays. I’m told that Emilie made quite an impact earlier this year with a single, a cover of Style by Taylor Swift – but 10,000 shows that there’s rather more to Emilie than just an able cover-artist; her own songwriting is commendably astute, and eloquently presented, and just needs a degree of listener patience to reveal more of its charm and substance.

David Kidman