Is it really five years since Sammo Hung packed it in? Christ, maybe it’s more. Frightening how quickly time goes by. Heck have come and gone, too; they set the bar unsustainably high by supporting the Fall within minutes of forming, or something, and their sporadic and excellent gigs are all that’s left of them. ‘Emits Rays’, Jemma Roper’s debut solo release, is thus the first record of her inimitable talents in half a decade. Fortunately, it’s well worth the wait.
I say inimitable, and in many ways it’s directly recognisable as her. There’s few more imposing voices to be found, and here it coils around the songs much as it did in her old bands. Strident and broodingly romantic against the martial drumming and swooping bass of ‘We Crawled To The City’, luminous and yearning on the gorgeous, pulsing PJ Harvey-does-the-Knife rush of ‘Russian Owls’, it’s essential to the album’s appeal.
On some occasions the continuation is pronounced. ‘Our Powers Are Matched’ survives from the Heck days, but it was never this fun; here it’s reborn as fantastic retro-futurist glam, a stride through John Carpenter’s neon New York streets with a giddy rush of chattering beats and galloping rhythms. If Austra weren’t such portentious goths they might enjoy themselves like this. Elsewhere, Emits Rays feels like a sleek, confident take on common musical threads of recent times, be it the throng of Kate Bush acolytes or the gothic synthwave of Zola Jesus. Yet whereas much of this delivers mood over melody or meaning, shrillness over subtlety, Roper’s poised vignettes get the balance between obliqueness and accessibility spot on, with a sense of pop fun, adventure and thrilling possibility.
Producer Luke Taylor (Love Parry III / Face + Heel) is a perfect foil for the album; it sounds fantastic, crisp and dynamic. The fuzz guitar winding through ‘The Great Depression’, guiding the vocal as it rails and struggles against the whip-crack rhythm, the gloriously liquid new wave guitar line on ‘Our Powers Are Matched’ and the rumbling bass underpinning ‘Russian Owls’ and ‘The Rolling Pin’ are examples of the broad, modernist palette used to flesh out the skeletal, exploratory songs sketched out at Jemma’s solo gigs. The closing ‘Thanks’ most closely resembles these more intimate versions, with stark, plangent guitar and echoey, minimal percussion. It’s an intimate and spooky closer to an album that promises great things. The studio allows her to manipulate the ‘J.R.’ templates into something rich, haunting and supremely effective.
Emits Rays is available from http://jemmaroper.bandcamp.com/.