OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s a song from another of PopLib’s favourite albums of 2018 you probably haven’t heard of. “Sinking Ship” is from Emily Fairlight‘s self-released album “Mother of Gloom”, a slow-burning masterpiece of dark and damaged alternative folk music which has a heart of emotionally-charged pop.

Some would label the music on “Mother of Gloom” as “Americana”. I’ve never been sure what that word actually means. Or how it can be applied to the music of a singer-songwriter originating from the fertile Christchurch/ Lyttelton scene that produced the likes of Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding and helped develop Port Chalmers musician Nadia Reid. Emily Fairlight has also been based in Wellington before a recent shift south to Dunedin.

Sure there’s a hint of country in Fairlight’s music; a slow-strummed acoustic guitar tends to do that. And, although Fairlight is from the South Island of New Zealand, the album was recorded by Doug Walseth of The Cat’s Eye Studio in Austin, Texas, with Okkervil River drummer Cully Symington and multi-instrumentalist Kullen Fuchs (trumpet, accordion, omnichord, vibraphone) adding further exotic instruments to the atmospheric song arrangements. So there is legitimately something of Texas in the mix as well as the unstable geography of New Zealand’s South Island.

However, it is Fairlight’s striking, resonant voice which is the key to breathing these songs into life. It’s a wonderfully distinctive instrument in its own right, full of a dark magic – including a hair-raising vibrato – and carrying the weight of a world of heartbreak and torment.

To compare Fairlight’s voice to the likes of Emmylou Harris, Angel Olsen and Natalie Merchant – which is the kind of company it belongs among – runs the risk of denying its own unique powerful character.

In the end the only place that matters for “Mother of Gloom” is the space – metaphorically-speaking – between the head and the heart. Don’t be put off by the most likely tongue-in-cheek album title – “Mother of Gloom” is a rich and ultimately uplifting album of songs of perseverance and survival.

Emily fairlight Mirrow image

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