Across the table and staring at me like a Carole King pre- her prime, singer-songwriter Emma van Heyn sits and sips at her coffee, letting the caffeinated whorl swirl around her mouth as she awaits my next question. “I cringe at my own work,” she says, vocalizing an afterthought to the unintentional tangent on self-criticism, that we’d been exploring for the last 5 minutes or so.
Emma is a girl about the midway. As she floats, a balloon pinned downed somewhere in the middle of her trajectory – in the aftermath of the release of her EP – Agenda - awaiting the release of her debut album, Asylum, in August of this year. A record which she assures me, on this early, rainy morning, will have been the culmination of years of effort.
Yesterday, after she’d fished it from her backpack, I received a copy of her EP. Last night I listened to it. And here are some candid thoughts on the collection:
The first track on the EP, Yin-Yang, begins quite interestingly with a progressive-pop riff that promises a gripping creature. Emma’s soothing alto is soon thrown into the mix and a decent track with a memorable refrain is born. Using her strength as the driver of the car Harmony she pulls together a sound that pulls one in and grips one even more tightly upon being given a second listen.
The five-track offering then moves on to Little Girl, a track which is perhaps lyrically flawed, but again makes up for it by offering up memorable melodies and a seemingly Imogen Heap-inspired take on the way voices work when layered.
Agenda, the title track, is next – a track which is perhaps the weakest on the EP in that it underwhelms in terms of lyrical and melodic content. However, this is soon made up for, when intro to the track Hypnosis leaks from the speakers and it becomes clear what this artist’s best colours are; this time, moving her voice up the octave to gaze down as a soprano, Emma once again works with blended harmonies using her strongest tool – her voice – to create a sonic landscape built on precision which, when it once more makes way for some of the EP’s Jazz-Pop stylings, leaves the listener craving more.
A craving which is perhaps sated by the EP’s last track – Dear John - written at 14, she tells me. A track which, despite its adolescent treatment of instrumentation and lyrics, demonstrates the potential she has as a pop-soprano, despite around 75% of the vocals on the record being done lower down.
Now, judging from the material she produced with her former act Morning Ms Dednam (the strength of the track “Sabotage” springing to mind quite specifically), what I think I expected was for a Morrissey-esque progression to have taken place in which The Smiths of her milieu would have given way to a fully-formed solo artist ready to take things on with full prowess.
But, how dastardly of me to expect that? Because the brain I’ve been picking at is only 21 years old. And with that comes inexperience – but, more importantly, with that comes potential. And, after listening to her EP one more time, that’s what I can now clearly hear- the potential for great things.
See, the main thing that struck me about this EP is that it sounded like the bones of a beautiful thing. In the same way that when you listen to something like KT Tunstall‘s Tracks in July (released independently a full six years before her major label debut) and can hear the promise in it, you can hear the melodic distinctions and musical treatment that, when matured, will make Emma Van Heyn a great artist.
So, free of my contempt, Emma sits and sips at her coffee one last time, setting the empty cardboard thing down on the table between us. For the last hour, she has been speaking with utter consciousness of her perception of things. A truth which has lead me to believing that that when her post-production methods are tightened and perhaps performed more meticulously, and as she improves as a lyricist and further learns what her compositional strong points are, that she’ll be able to deliver work that is striking and original, and which will grab my attention as fully as she does between the doses of caffeine she takes to keep her engine running on this drizzly, Tuesday morning.
Emma van Heyn is a girl about the midway. And, for the moment, I feel perfectly content with letting her be just that.