Flames, the first album by singer-songwriter Emily Daniels, combines an unabashed pop sensibility with direct, emotional lyrics, and does so with an assurance that belies the fact that this is a debut recording. The 18 songs collected here catch like wildfire but their deeper lyrical meanings are revealed only upon repeat listening.
“I was just wondering why all these thoughts and feelings were still nagging me after all these years, so I decided to explore them. The album is a biographical document of my struggles with pain, loss, and disappointment. It covers my history, my discoveries, and my healing process. My greatest hope is that someone who is suffering in a similar way can listen to it and find some peace.”
The album opens with “Overcome”, which pairs Daniels’s cut-glass voice with burbling 16 bit sounding synthesizers, eventually building (as her music frequently seems to) towards a wall of multitracked harmonies. The song is an appropriate mood-setter for what’s to come; particular highlights include “Amen” and “Your Heart is the Answer”, both of which are accompanied by videos.
“Amen” is accompanied by an affecting, hypnotic found footage video (see below) of military combat and destruction that contrasts with the lush music, making its affirmation of hope more than just a personal one. The “Your Heart is the Answer” video repurposes footage of Daniels’s near doppelganger Lilian Gish to great effect, with a song that features one of the catchiest choruses on the album and glacial synth sounds that are worthy of the best Italo-disco.
Speaking of disco, occasionally, the more euphoric qualities of Daniels’s voice and arsenal of synth sounds suggest something about to kick out. These are songs that could be remixed into clubland floor fillers. The minor key “Fantasy”, for example, is built on a brooding riff that cries out for a dub bassline and percussion – these never arrive, creating a sense of unfulfilled anticipation that can only be deliberate, creating a nostalgic (in its true sense) mood, a feeling of longing that translates to a desire to keep playing the music.
At 18 tracks, there’s a lot to take in here – if it had been released in the CD era it would have been a sprawling double album. Despite the sprawl there’s also a coherence and a consistency. One intuitively senses a narrative constructed out of emotional peaks and troughs. Furthermore, one of the absolute highlights is the final track “Of Kindling and a Spark”, featuring a similar burbling sound to the one that opened the album, some of Daniels’s most powerful singing, and heartbreaking lyrics married to another deep-burrowing earworm. Flames is an album that will stay with you and yet feel out of reach at the same time, coaxing you to return for yet another listen.
For more information about Emily Daniels’s music, go here.