(16 May 2004) Emma Rugg busked for six months to raise the cash to record Isolated Impression (InDreams Records (UK) 209802 1, 2003). It was time and money well spent as she's produced a lyrical and fluid debut album which promises much for the future. It's not an album that's going to knock you out on first play, but one that'll grow in your affections as you become more familiar with it--and it's that kind of relationship that usually lasts the longest!
The album opens with the beautifully unassuming "As You Go." There's a distinct Cranberries edge to "Grand Designs," both in the lead vocal and the harmonies, a strong song with a hook you'll go away humming. This is followed by "Picture Perfect" which opens with some haunting guitar and vocals. Again it's very beautiful with lovely use of harmonies. At over 6 minutes, it's simply too long and the impact of the mesmerising opening is dissipated by the time the song ends.
"Read Your Mind" has an unusual chord structure and some interesting interweaving guitar lines. This, together with its unpredictable melody line makes it an understated highlight of the album. Together with "Grand Designs," "Prelude To The End" is the other upbeat track on the CD. It's stacked with memorable melodies and is the most immediate song on the album by some distance. "To Love You" is another solidly acoustic song with a strong vocal performance.
"Today" is simply gorgeous. The unusual chording and subtle approach to the guitar accompaniment is perfect, enhancing the feel of the piece and giving the song itself a chance to shine through, perhaps also showing that the guitar work on some of the other tracks is unnecessarily complex. This is the best track on the album. There's some interesting interweaving vocal lines and pleasant harmony in "Floor 8." The penultimate track "If Walls Had Ears" is a bit of a harmony fest. The closing song, "In Your Universe" has an unusual structure - with a lovely middle eight - and don't eject the CD when the song finishes as seven or so minutes of silence passes to reveal a piano coda to the album.
This is a tremendously enjoyable album and I recommend it unreservedly. But that's not to say it's perfect. In many ways perhaps the reason this album is so scary is that it's so good despite there being room for improvement. Some of the songs lack a musical focus; starting, happening very beautifully and then vanishing like soap bubbles without leaving anything behind. Almost all the introductions are similar - play the first few seconds of each - only Grand Designs, and 'Today' are distinctive.
The CD is personal and intimate in feel--no bad thing in itself--but over the whole album the unremitting first person tends to become a little oppressive and it does limit perspective. For example: "Grand Designs" begins "I've been watching you from afar...." "Prelude To The End" opens with "I've been watching, I've been wondering for a while," The opening line of "If Walls Had Ears" begins "I've been waiting...." Lyrically, the album might have benefited from a wider sphere of reference.
Nevertheless, there is also clarity and truth. In "Grand Designs;" "I'm not part of your grand design, I won't change what I want for what you like." And a sense of humour which I'd love to see more of "I've been waiting for the clock to stop so I can buy another battery." (from "If Walls Had Ears.")
Some of these observations probably sound way harsher than we actually feel. This is a beautiful CD, and Emma's got a wonderfully distinctive voice that would hold you in thrall if she was reciting a telephone directory. Get this album and be entranced. Then wait with bated breath for the sequel. Jamie Field in Kington and Russ Elliot in New York