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Herb Sundays 78: Avalon Emerson
The polymath musician and DJ understood the assignment: "...frankly playing music in the car just for yourself should be an herbish experience if you're doing it right."
a quick note in Print Shop font on dot matrix printer paper banner:
“Welcome new subscribers from Blackbird Spyplane and thanks for the shout-out.”
“Here are a collection of picked-cherries off of albums that I've been rinsing lately. Hunter and I have somewhat recently moved to the country, so there's a lot of driving, to and from the city, the lumber yard, the farm stand, etc. It's allowed me to get reacquainted with one of my fav suburban past times of driving and blasting music, which hasn't been as much a part of my life since I lived in Arizona. And frankly playing music in the car just for yourself should be an herbish experience if you're doing it right.” - Avalon Emerson
Raised in Arizona (I remember her describing herself as a “desert rat”), Avalon Emerson started her career in earnest in San Francisco before moving to Berlin in 2014 where things kicked off steadily as a DJ of major repute and as a producer with a battery of great 12” releases. You can start to hear the echoes of her new album sound in 2014’s “Church Of Soma” on the elegant Spring Theory label (label owner Guillaume’s The Lot Radio shows are always worth a listen). In 2016, Avalon also released an EP, Narcissus in Retrograde, on our Ghostly imprint, Spectral Sound. The same year, her release “The Frontier” kicked things off considerably and would nearly top Resident Advisor's Top 10 Tracks of the Decade list later.
Now splitting up life between Berlin and the Catskill Mountains, the album feels like the proper arrival of Emerson settling into herself both as a music fan and as a macro-level producer of sound and sight. It’s her long-delayed Saturn’s Return album which reflects the chaos and the calm after a decade of endless global trips and the resultant dalliances with people, cities, clubs, and ideas.
Avalon’s taking a very Herbal career turn with this record but can’t say I’m surprised, she’s been breadcrumbing us (but in earnest, thankfully) all along. The clues were always there, especially in her cover of The Magnetic Fields' "Long-Forgotten Fairytale," which opens her 2020 DJ-Kicks mix (Verse 3: “And I know what happens then / You raise the ante”). The choice of cover is very Emersonian: It’s serious, a touch dark, but has a wizened lightheartedness reserved for the most intelligent of artists. She’s also shown she can move between worlds musically with remixes for Slowdive (a phenomenal mix that sort of foreshadows her album), Robyn, Four Tet, Octo Octa, and others.
The transition to indie pop from dance music is no easy feat, and it’s great to see the path being pushed further. This move was more fiercely frowned upon in previous years (I still carry some shrapnel in my leg from Matthew Dear’s moves on this path, but it was worth it) though it seems to be less gatekept now. There are more great examples to point to including the impressive pop-rock debut from fellow Spectral Sound alumni Patrick Holland on the Captured Tracks-affiliated label Sinderyn.
Emerson has always been a wanderer, not just in music but in and out of the tech world (her DOS-y show announcements are a nice easter egg) though she still maintains the Buy Music Club site with friends including First Floor’s Shawn Reynaldo, which is a resource for “browsing lists of independent music purchasable on Bandcamp” (you could do worse than start with Barker’s Peaktime Ambient mix).
She’s always an exquisite ear for melody and quality mixdowns, and she’s not afraid to be uncool which is why her Herb entry is so vital and represents a true Herb Sundays powderkeg. My early summer drives to this Saint Etienne cut are a zenith sense memory, then there’s the blistering heat of Suede’s debut album, plus a Deep Forest album cut, a massive gated-snared-Wang Chung hit, and a Vangelis closer which hits Herb schmaltz heights the likes of which we haven’t seen since Michael Mayer’s Herb 67 missive earlier this year.
The new album shares some of the lovelorn qualities of fellow bespectacled crooner Erlend Øye’s (Kings Of Convenience, The Whitest Boy Alive) 2003 debut Unrest, an underrated electro-pop travelogue which found Øye train-hopping (contrasting Emerson’s Zoom hangs) to visit global producers such as Morgan Geist (Metro Area) and Bjørn Torske, recounting the slings and arrows of the traveling musicians’ life. Queue that up (it’s on most services) after this mix, and of course, Emerson’s album.
I’ve been trying to dive in on the lyrics on Avalon’s record and have been most bit so far by “Karaoke Song” which reads like a napkin draft or possibly unsent email to an ex, or just the sort of ruminating you do long past when you should be asleep. Similar to a Magnetic Fields song, the tone and title feel like a cute ditty, but it’s actually a bit devastating. It’s also exactly the kind of High School Feelings Club (HSFC) art this Blogspot was made for.
In the press release for the single, Emerson hints: “Intimacy isn't just the big ticket vulnerabilities, it's also the breeze blowing little pieces of leaves and dust between two people that you don't really notice until they're gone.”
“What timezone do you see the moon from?
Are you missing your home?
What did you wear on Halloween?
Does your life now make you feel complete?
Where did the time go?”
From the field (some choice mixes this week).
“Every party's got a winner and a loser / I'm jumping out of the game / By being a referee”