By: Stephen Bennett, Staff Writer
Is that a made-up word? No.
An aphid, by definition, is “a minute bug that feeds by sucking sap from plants.” This choice by the artist to couple this title with an album cover of two people in a warm embrace is enigmatic, yes, but entices the consumer to figure out if a truth lies between the two.
Lying in the vein of woozy folk and soulful ease rock, Emma Ivy, Portland-Chicago singer/songwriter, forgoes the lo-fi bedroom pop aesthetic adopted by most Gen-Z artists and instead opts for levity in the power of calm sound. Her avant-gardist influence is on full display with the first track of the album (also the title track), where she uses her voice as the centerpiece; a repeated guttural release that carries high in the mix.
Ivy’s voice is classically beautiful, at times reminiscent of Lana Del Rey, and is always confident. What keeps it from getting stale to the listener’s ears is the inherent darkness it holds. Most of the production embodies a hopeful spirit, and so does Ivy herself, but the timbre of the voice lays bare emotions that do not always connect through the lyrics.
“Aphid” as a whole is a submersive experience. Some tracks take control of the listener’s ears, like the undeniable groove of the Beatles-esque chord progression on “My Dog”, or the devilish swagger rooted in the bass of “Tiny 89”. Others remain as still as a pool of saline, like “Helena”, a defiant story about a detached girl. Sonic congruence runs throughout the project, subconsciously knocking down your nihilistic guard, finally allowing you to enjoy the specimen for what it is.
Unlike glue, Ivy’s words do not stick to the ears, as they are constantly blissed out by rustically textured guitars, esoteric drums and bass rooted in the Earth. This isn’t because the vocals are mixed low – the tone of them is remarkable – but the lyrics are not at the wheel, driving the experience this album provides. When you pick apart the tracklist, song by song, commonalities and themes exist amongst them, but there is a sense of dissonance between each piece. They are all held together by aural senses of the natural, and commanding qualities of musicianship, but it is a struggle to understand what this album hopes to express.
Not all pieces of art have to wave grand statements of explicit meaning – they would be dull if they did – but the reality that Ivy hopes to paint is difficult to discern. “Aphid” seems to relish in an idealistic world where all emotions, even pain and heartbreak, feel good; but it’s difficult to reach an understanding of that purgative relief if a broken heart’s beat cannot be heard. Folk music calls for a level of perceived authenticity in the experience, which is missing here.
But like Lana Del Rey’s fabricated persona or a fixation on a particular bug, there is joy to be derived from the unreal. Not all will be able to escape their own reality in Ivy’s scattered stories of lite-rebellion and roaring lions in the forest, but for those who want their pain to feel like beauty, then they will be rewarded gently. This album might not be for the cynical, or the possessors of a thick critical lens, but it sure as hell sounds good.