get a bottle of whiskey / get a bottle of gin / get dead-set on the death of old stories / get born again

A few months ago I wrote a post about artists who I remember fondly and wish were still gigging regularly. That Top-5 post was originally going to culminate with Emilyn Brodsky, the New York-based ukulele player and songwriter whose shows were always so funny and confusing and devastating. Her banter was hilarious; it was confusing to be confronted by a solo uke player who occupied the stage like there was an orchestra behind her every night; her lyrics were goddamn fucking sad and specific. She toured some around her 2008 album Emilyn Brodsky’s Greatest Tits, but after a while I stopped seeing her name on festival bills or anywhere. However, the day I was writing up that post was the day I happened to see Franz Nicolay announce that the new Emilyn Brodsky record he’d produced was coming out in the fall. That was about as many good factors as can be combined into one new piece of information. Brodsky earns my eternal interest and Nicolay my total confidence, so it is no surprise, but a great pleasure, to confirm that this record is Essential Listening.

Since I’m on the subject of the Brodsky/Nicolay partnership (which was also featured on the Nicolay-produced Brodsky/Mirah split 7″ from years ago and on Nicolay’s 2012 album, in the duet “Take No Prisoners”), I’ll start with my favorite collaborative moment on the album–the accordion on “Born Again,” which partners with a galloping drumbeat to breathe a Hold Steady-ish pace into the song. That’s a formidable motherfucking song. It leads right into “Someone Belongs Here,” the anthemic sort-of-single of the album, which premiered on an episode of Girls. A sharp line in that song goes: “You’re the taker, I’m the giver /
Take my sex but leave my liver.”

I also want to pause to mention how much I enjoy the album title and cover art. It’s hard to keep focus because listening to this is an overwhelming, exciting experience. There are so many things to commend. For instance, there’s also this line from “In the Wash:” “Sometimes the self you know / is not the one with whom your love is intimate.” I’m all for unfocused reviews but I don’t want it to keep diverting my attempts to celebrate Brodsky’s songwriting. The Paul Simon-descended “Only Living Boy” is a verbose monster of a song that by all means shouldn’t work, but it’s so great at sewing and reaping tension that it’s insanely listenable. A line like, “Falling in love is giving up on someone new / Tonight I’m full of nothing and this is the best I can do,” snowballs into debaucherous descriptions of the narrator’s night that demand a major performance from Brodsky. She sings the shit out it. Nicolay’s experience building lush sounds around dense lyrics and keeping from interfering/competing with each other probably has a little do with this album’s similar success. The atmosphere is as sense-rich as the album art.

Through story songs or ones that appear more directly confessional, coming from her awesome collaborators or her heart-height ukulele, this record is all Brodsky’s storytelling. It’s crafted around answering machine messages from family and friends, and it goes for the question of really “reaching” the person you’re calling. There’s stories and messages that circle around what might have put six full years between her albums. There’s stories about emerging from shitty cycles, too. Ultimately, the thing stands on the side of joy and gratitude, ending with “Good Days,” a coda that’s sweet but far from candy-coated. The end makes similar moves to Lenny Lashley’s “Re-Covering” from last year’s Illuminator, another album that roars back from difficult times. It also reminds me of Kate Nash’s awesome Girl Talk, and Cory Branan’s No-Hit Wonder–all albums that are clear and confident and feel like a meaningful culmination of the artist’s work.

Born Again

Someone Belongs Here

Only Living Boy

Go stream and buy and gorge yourself on Eats Her Feelings at Brodsky’s bandcamp. Visit her re-energized website (try the dial-a-Brodsky feature! I don’t know what it does!) and follow her on Facebook. (Branan’s playing her record release show in Manhattan on October 1 with Franz Nicolay, so check that out if you’re there.)