Scout Niblett, It’s Up To Emma

Scout Niblett, <em>It's Up To Emma</em>

I love breakup albums. It’s a voyeuristic thing on some level, I’m sure, like watching a car wreck or train wreck or whatever — although personally, I’ve never been big on rubbernecking at wrecks like that, for some reason. On another level, though, it’s because, well, I’ve been there before. I’d guess that almost everyone has, at one point or another: you think things are going great, you start to wonder if he/she might be The One, and then boom, it’s over, and you’re left wondering what the hell could’ve gone so wrong.

For me, it’s a shared experience, something I can relate to, unlike sordid tales of partying down or living the high life (which I’ve never really done). Heartbreak and pain, that I can understand; I’ll grant that I was lucky enough to meet the love of my life, eventually, but it took a lot of breakage, depression, bitterness, and anguish to get to that point.

And listening to Scout Niblett’s It’s Up To Emma, yeah, I’m going to bet that she’s had to go through all of that, too. Emma itself unspools like you’re witnessing the whole process, from the initial shattering moments of The End, where everything is over, over, over, and you’re lying dazed on the floor, all the way to acceptance, the part where you realized that yeah, life keeps moving.

In between, though, it’s something to see, that’s for sure. The album kicks off with the bitter, threatening revenge fantasy “Gun,” which is about exactly what you’re thinking it’s about (thankfully, the threatened plan is seemingly never put into practice). It starts quiet and grim but steadily builds into a cathartic, bluesy, stomping explosion that sounds closer to mr. Gnome or the harsher edges of P.J. Harvey than anything I’ve heard of Niblett’s earlier, sleepier work.

There’s also a heavy Cat Power influence evident in the British-born singer/songwriter’s music this time around, as on the dark, straight-up somber “Can’t Fool Me Now,” or the stark wonderment of “Woman and Man.” “My Man” steps a little more delicately, all plaintive and pleading, with Niblett/the narrator — since it’s never absolutely clear just how autobiographical this all is — asking their former(?) lover why it all fell apart.

Most of the best moments on It’s Up To Emma are the sharper ones, however, like “Second Chance Dream,” which is tougher and more rocking, nearly in Sleater-Kinney territory, with Niblett snidely telling off the aforementioned former lover when they come meandering back: “Well, you took your time / You took your sweet-ass time.” Scratch the Sleater-Kinney comparison; this is closer to Liz Phair than it is Tucker, Brownstein, and Weiss. The interesting part, though, is that while Niblett’s sneering and incredulous, in the same breath she admits that she dreams about going back to what they once had.

“All Night Long” dispenses with that dithering, crunching slowly along at dirge pace, grim and menacing, while Niblett snarls at her ex to just fuck off (albeit in not so many words). It’s at this point that she’s regained her confidence, and that evolution’s brilliantly done, moving next to an awesomely straight-faced and kind of glum cover of “No Scrubs.” A duet with Emil Amos (of Portland band Holy Sons), it’s surprisingly gorgeous and stately, almost elegaic, with Niblett this time providing a firm but down-to-earth response to all the wannabe players out there.

From there, Emma shifts upwards into the light. “Could This Possibly Be?” is uncertain and deliberate at the start, like Niblett’s crawling up out of the wreckage and finding something that looks like it could be real; later on, Niblett roars to life, stomping and strummy and showing (for the first time, really) just how powerful her voice can really be. At one point while listening, I could feel my jaw literally drop open and stay there as she howled out all that frustration and fear and hope.

And then, there’s the coda. That’s really what closer “What Can I Do?” is, more than anything else; it’s about the inevitability of the actual process of coping, whether it’s with death or a breakup or a loss of some other kind. About half the time, it sounds like somebody else talking to Niblett and trying to help, but then it’ll change slightly, and I’m wondering if it’s actually Niblett herself talking someone else through it: “What the hell did they do to you / to make you so scared / of falling in love / of feeling you care?”

As the album rolls to its end, the song soars upwards into a crescendo of yearning, hopeful glory that sees Niblett with her mind made up, resolved and ready to move on. And that’s an incredible thing to witness.

(Feature photo by Devin Ludwig.)

[Scout Niblett is playing 9/4/13 at Mango’s, along with Elaine Greer & B.E. Godfrey.]
(Drag City -- P.O. Box 476867, Chicago, IL. 60647;; Scout Niblett --; Scout Niblett (Facebook) --; Scout Niblett (Twitter) --; Scout Niblett (Myspace) --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, September 4th, 2013. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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