Avalon Emerson and her & The Charm project’s shimmering debut packs the avant-pop beauty of some of the DJ and producer favourites, from Arthur Russell to the Cocteau Twins.
Since beginning her career playing Bay Area warehouse parties around a decade ago, Avalon Emerson has earned a status as one of the most sought-after DJs in dance music. Respected for her tech-savvy method, Emerson’s sets are by no means confined by rationality.
Characterised by eclecticism, Emerson could play anything between pumping house and techno, post-punk, indie-sleaze, EBM, pop edits and industrial, with an ability to move seamlessly from intimate sets at Panorama Bar to mammoth festivals.
Out now via Another Dove – a new project co-founded with Nic Tasker, head of the experimental label AD 93 (formerly Whities) – Avalon Emerson & The Charm is the artist’s highly anticipated debut album. A leftfield pop record may seem like a surprise switch to some, yet anyone who’s noticed Emerson’s penchant for looking beyond traditionally ‘dance floor-ready’ selections will be less surprised by her pivot.
Although her voice has previously been heard on a 2020 cover of ‘Long Forgotten Fairytale’, the album pushes these vocals to the forefront for the first time and points to a full exploration of this musical direction.
Emerson is a lover of avant-pop artists – notably, Arthur Russell, The Postal Service, The Cocteau Twins and Caroline Polachek. Bullion, an artist who slots into this loose category, co-produced the eponymous album, along with instrumentation from Emerson’s wife Hunter Lombard and friend Kevon Hobeheider.
Found on influential labels such as Young and Trilogy Tapes, Bullion’s quirky discography ranges from sea-shanty-turned-house-banger ‘Blue Pedro’, to the heartfelt repetition on ‘We Had A Good Time’. Both Bullion and Emerson have an ability to meld multifaceted electronic textures with emotive melodies, making their collaboration a fruitful match throughout.
Born out of the lockdown, the record begins with the jangly guitar of ‘Sandrail Silhouette’. “Tell me about your life / I wanna hear about your dreams,” her vocal sings over the top, setting the personal tone of the record. Emerson’s lyrics use the Sonoran desert of her native Arizona as a metaphor for navigating rocky relationships and a springboard for contemplating the passing of time.
‘Entombed In Ice’ mixes an industrial beat with typically Bullion-esque flourishes, followed by the groovy bassline and blissful synths of ‘A Vision’, one of the more danceable tracks on the LP. The downtempo ‘Astrology Poisoning’ is a synth-pop track wistfully exploring universal anxieties and the drifting apart of friends, typified by the line “The walls we put up, sneaking up on us / The world is a fuck and accelerating”.
Ethereal vocals, multi-layered guitar and the ambient drone of ‘Stone’ recall Harold Budd and The Cocteau Twins’ The Moon and the Melodies. As the strings reach an intense crescendo and abruptly fade out, you’re quickly hit with the rhythmic bleeps and spliced vocals of ‘Dreamliner’. The sequencing builds tension and releases it in ecstatic bursts, a skill learnt from navigating the energy of the dancefloor every weekend.
The highlight of the album comes next, as the boppy two-step rhythm and gentle breaks of ‘Hot Evening’ underlay a warm, sepia-filtered melody, described by Emerson as “a series of diary entries, home movies, and polaroids.”
Having moved to the Catskills during lockdown, now splitting her time between the mountainous West Coast region and Berlin, recurrent themes suggest a renewed connection with nature, as the environment and the cosmos are invoked throughout the album, amid subtle warnings about the impending climate emergency. A section of the first verse suggests the song’s title has a dual meaning, “California pilled / Back there at least those wastelands flower // When they’re not on fire”.
As Emerson told Pitchfork, the album carefully balances soft, often kitsch instrumentals with ‘black-pilled’ subject matter. The penultimate track and third single, ‘Karaoke Song’, encapsulates this dichotomy. Returning to the concept of time, the track contemplates the ephemeral aspects of intimate relationships.
Sun-kissed textures soundtrack the recounting of questions to a distant ex-lover, weaving between the banal, “Are you better with your money? / Did you find a brand new karaoke song?” and the more profound, “Does your life now make you feel more complete? / Where did the time go?”
The album closes with the nearly nine-minute long space-rock journey ‘A Dam Will Always Divide’, where Placid Angles-style muted breaks create a driving rhythm that coalesces with the vocal and powerful guitar chords to form a chaotic euphoria which begins to steadily deconstruct and ultimately dissipates into the ether.
Avalon Emerson insists that The Charm has no fixed members or rules. Where she takes the project will become more evident in the future. For now, she’s teased an exciting slew of remixes of the debut LP, bound to be heard this summer on the many dancefloors she frequents so often.