Emika - Klavirni Temna
On his Pianist Envy mixtape, Jason Beck, aka madcap entertainer Gonzales said:
People used to come up to me in the early days of Gonzales and say 'Ohhh, your personality is taking away from the music', then I made Solo Piano, and they're like 'Oh, we're so happy, now we can take you seriously'. Well fuck them!
I remembered that quote when Emika (real name Ema Jolly) released Klavirni her first album of solo piano music in 2015, thinking, I already take Emika seriously! I always took Gonzales seriously too. Back in 2004 I was a fan of his electronic output on LPs like Gonzales Uber Alles and Presidential Suite. The idea of just him and a piano though wasn't appealing. Sadly (for me) it was the same case with Emika, her piano collection arriving in the same year as Drei, her strongest LP of electronic Pop, made it difficult for me to switch mindsets.
With both artists classically trained on the piano, the desire to produce music in that form is understandable. On Klavirni I noted its stripped-back style, spare and open for scrutiny but measured against her other releases, it was austere, arguably missing her key strength as a musician: melody. Ultimately it wasn't what I was expecting or wanting to hear at the time, so dismissed it. The album artwork didn't help either. The sexy pianist? Nah.
Listening back to it now, what I failed to appreciate at the time was the subtle post-effects she added to her playing, adjustments beyond the damper pedal; for example, the way the simple melody on Dilo 13 (later developed into Miracles, a track from Drei) unexpectedly sparks into life near the end.
Five years later and thanks to the ever-increasing popularity of Ambient music and all its Classical-leaning offshoots, my appreciation has grown a pair. With little trepidation (and admittedly no expectations) I immersed myself into Klavirni Temna and emerged converted! From a casual listener's perspective, we have fourteen beautiful and (importantly) melodic compositions that are very easy to love. Each track (or Dilo—Czech for 'moment') an audial response to Jolly's emotional input, at once capturing a moment in her life while triggering an appropriate comeback from the listener. A perfect circle. From my perspective though, there's a crucial aspect that could easily be overlooked: these tracks were improvised. Yes, improvised! Who's actually the musical genius here?
Klavirni Temna roughly translates as "dark piano" from Czech, which is fitting. Not only are these tracks wrought from deep, personal feelings, captured in their glorious spontaneity but they actually sound dark. Like Klavirni, the subtle use of dreamy sound effects, whether captured live, like ghosts in the machine, through obscure production mistakes with tape echo and other old analog gear or intentionally dubbed afterwards, add a vital sincerity to the music. The result is many geniunely moving moments, for example, Dilo 29, with its slightly wonky notes could have tears welling up unexpectedly, while the plaintive melody on Dilo 21 is guaranteed to leave you wrecked, like an emotional bag of bones. On Dilo 31 the ghost of The Caretaker sweeps past with a shiver. Elsewhere, hints of Ludovico Einaudi and Sophie Hutchings provide further context if it were needed. Like all these artists, I suspect I'll be coming back to this album a lot in the future.
- Rating: 10/10
- Listens: 21
- Highlight: Dilo 31
- Label: Emika Records
- Release Date: 14th February 2020