Album Review: Emily Wells’ Regards To The End

A look at New York composer Emily Well’s enthralling new album, Regards to the End, a stirring offering of orchestral pop…

by: Jennifer Parker

There’s never a bad time to listen to Emily Wells’ music. It doesn’t matter what mood you may be in, there exists a song for every feeling. Wells’ captivating soundscapes have the ability to bring one deep within themselves, or even have the cathartic means to release one from the ruminations constantly running through their head. Persistently, Wells’ voice floats over and around her music, never overpowering it, never overshadowed by it.

Welding a scaffold of chamber music, pop, and video artistry, composer and producer Wells’ latest album, Regards to the End, acknowledges her reality as a citizen of a world unraveling. On it, she constructs eight of the ten tracks from real-time layers of drums, piano, synths, vocals, wind instruments, and strings that are rife with loops that are dreamy and ethereal. Full of compassion rather than judgment, her latest compositions are dedicated to artists and activists who perhaps seeded the concept of her current album. Conceptually, Regards to the End is an auditory odyssey exploring the AIDS crisis, Climate Change, and Wells’ lived experience as a queer musician.

Thematically, Wells lyrics echo the terror born of ignorance. The fragility of life is reflected in the instrumental choices she employs throughout the album of organ, violin, snare drum, and cymbals. Take the eighth track, Arnie And Bill to the Rescue, a love song or eulogy to an almost-perfect union of two artists, lovers, collaborators — Bill T Jones and Arnie Zane — decimated by the AIDS crisis in 1988. Wells references the AIDS epidemic more than once in the album, but her specific mention of Jones and Zane resurrects the panic and fear that people experienced as their friends were dying and how the once beautiful became untouchable. The organ intro portends the funereal, but the song is delicious in its orchestration to escape being elegiac. 

“The ambulance wouldn’t touch him, so the whole household began erupting /

All that was left in the delirium, were the stars that had always been above him”

Wells’ orchestra washes and twirls with rolling and echoing notes sometimes lingering, sometimes punctuating her lyrics and tempo. Segments of synthesizer eerily mirror her vocals as if she’s performing in a subway tunnel. Unpredictable ingredients interweave the compositions such as a swiftly plucked violin and a softly tapped cymbal. Regards to the End bursts with her depth of knowledge of visual and spoken art. Her fearlessness and virtuosity are Wells’ dominant resources as a composer.

It’s a music geek’s dream to explore a new Emily Wells’ album, spelunking from one composition to the next is like continuously discovering a new hidden world, always surprising and never boring. The first track, “I’m Numbers,” leads with a ghostly bowed violin that dissolves in her gradually complex arrangement, painting her composition with bursts of breath, faint rattling percussion, and agile keys. Her voice, sometimes languid and barely above a whisper, and at other times several octaves higher, questions the disquieting reality: “I’m numbers ‘till I’m not.” Impossible to predict who is a statistic, a number on an actuarial chart, or sidelined from society, the phrase repeats throughout the song as a terrifying mantra that any of us may only count because we can be counted. 

Diverging from her polymath style on two piano compositions showcases her classical training. The fifth cut, a piano piece, “David’s Got a Problem,” references the New York artist, David Wojnarowicz, who tempered his rage with planting meadows of wildflowers around the city. Dead by forty-one of AIDS, his art and activism influences much of Regards to the End. The lyrics in the track are deceptively simple, “that’s why you love me” echoes throughout much of the song along with the piano accompaniment that is melancholy yet wistful. Like her albums before, Wells suggests rather than preaches, trusting her audience to glean their own meanings from the lyrics and watching her live is a sensorial bath of sound and deftness of movement. You don’t have to know that the central theme of Regards to the End is about activism and the AIDS crisis to interpolate your own meaning from Wells’ music. You just need to listen.

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