Emily's D+Evolution


Esparanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding's talents are obvious on stage: her exceptional bass playing, her conceptual imagination, her tendency toward the compositionally ornate, her ever-increasing command of her vocal instrument. That jigsaw hasn't always fully assembled for her records, which seem to summon an editor for concision, or something to scuff up the sheen, or some better translation of the real-time to the on-repeat. Surprise: This record is her best yet.

Forced to classify, you'd call it art rock, for guitar-bass-drums electric power trio; asked for touchstones, you might throw out St. Vincent, or Laurie Anderson, or Janelle Monae. There are prog-rock vibes throughout, with unexpected harmonic twists, asymmetric phrasing, off-balance beats, an alter ego or persona (the titular Emily), even a choreographed stage show.

But the trick of Emily's D+Evolution is that "that's kinda weird" becomes "that's really catchy" on repeated listen. There's a depth here that wouldn't be possible without a broad musical vocabulary (and Matthew Stevens' guitar). But for all the inputs, what emerges is eminently singable, kinks and all.

Review by Patrick Jarenwattananon, NPR