Emika is one of those musicians who really goes the extra mile. Physically, in fact, she went an extra 800-odd miles, travelling from Bristol to Berlin prior to creating this astonishing record. But musically she goes even further. I remember, years ago, listening to an Aphex Twin 12” at half the normal BPM and being amazed by the incredible attention to detail on elements which were almost inaudible at normal speed. It seemed like no four bars were quite the same. This album, though very different, inspires that same incredulity.
Emika's music is sparse, sinister and very, very heavy on bass. Her Bristolian past is audible; the melancholy urbanism of Burial and Portishead is twinned with a subwoofer-melting dedication to the low-frequency sound so loved by the city's clubbers. The influence of Berlin is also undeniable. The German capital's most famous club, Berghain, provided an epiphany for the artist when she accidentally bumped into the decks and brought the music to a halt – the ensuing resonance of gradually fading sound excited her so much she was rendered oblivious to the irritated stares of her fellow party-goers.
She ended up recording an audio document of the entire building which was given to the club's favourite DJs, who turned the samples into tracks for a celebrated 5th anniversary compilation. It's this enthusiasm for the mechanics of sound that is responsible for “Emika” being such an enthralling listen. Though the music technology graduate has opted to create songs rather than “tracks”, the joy is in listening to the little touches in the background – the industrial echoes of “FM Attention”, the stuttering piano edits in “Drop The Other”, the pulsating simulation of tinnitus in “Professional Loving”. The close of “Be My Guest” even features a relic from her Berghain experiments – the creak of sex swings in its notorious basement. Considering the sparseness of the music, there's a hell of a lot going on. If ever there was a record made for headphones, this is it.
Such experimentation would be fascinating on its own, but Emika is kind enough to give us some tunes too. “Count Backwards” kicks off with a gentle, gorgeous refrain of “Give me a penny for your thoughts / Just one” before the volume suddenly leaps for an unnervingly paranoid chorus. The cute to creepy formula is reversed on “Double Edge”. The verse finds a haunting piano riff underpinning Emika's doubt of her own senses ( “Somebody told me / It's all in your head girl”) - before a chorus which if it wasn't stripped bare could almost be a radio-friendly club classic, although it remains forbidding lyrically - “He cut me like a double-edged sword / Now I'm split in the middle / Tell me, which side do you pick”.
The darkness continues on the horror-march of “Pretend”, while the most disturbing lyrics are found on “3 Hours”, where Emika implores the song's subject to “Hit me where you want it and I'll take the blame / Hit me and I guarantee you'll feel the same / Hit me if you think that it'll help the pain / Hit me, hit me, hit me, hit me, anyway” with a psycho-sexual perversity not heard since Peaches' “Fuck The Pain Away”. Take it from personal experience, if you listen to this album repeatedly the morning after a heavy night out you'll end up damp with the chill-sweat of the unhinged.
And it's totally worth it, right down to a beautiful closing piano piece (she's a classically-trained musician in her own right). While Emika's plain, unemotional voice is sometimes over-shadowed by the aural invention that surrounds it, and the songs are generally atmospheric rather than catchy, it's still an album you can get completely subsumed in. The water here is dark, cold, uninviting...and yet lovely. Dive in.