'Monsterverse' EP by Emma McGannReview
One of the great pleasures in the reviewing I do for "Hot Music Live" is that it introduces me to original & individualistic artistic voices. I do feel somewhat alienated from what constitutes the "mainstream" as far as the media & major labels define it: it's almost as if the two were mutually exclusive. I find it sad when local artist whom I might otherwise cover decide to sacrifice their own voices in pursuit of emulating the already successful & so I tend to pass over their offerings.
However, from time to time, hope is renewed when artists give proof that one can engage (successfully) with the mainstream while maintaining artistic integrity & if they have local roots, I'm delighted to write about them here & examine what means they are employing to exist in both worlds.
One outstanding example must be Emma McGann who now has an international profile. So what are the ingredients for her success? Well I'd suggest that hard work, attention to detail, ability to innovate and convey a love of what she's doing might be worth talking about, so in the context of her current release, the ‘Monsterverse' EP, I'll take each in turn.
Firstly, the EP, which has four tracks: "HEX", "Monsters", "Anyone Else" and "Wild Thoughts", took more than a year to craft: which alone tells you how much care Emma & collaborator James Plester put into getting it just right & how much was invested into it emotionally. Yes it's pop, it's danceable but I seriously wonder how many of the algorithm generated releases of those styles took anywhere near as long.
If you think that the graft alone was the reason for why it's so good, then you would be overlooking the factor of innovation which exceeds even the hard work element in making it special. And that's special in two ways. First is the breadth of experience which Emma is offering you & the second is the depth of the meaning with which it is imbued.
I'd better take the plunge into the first of these to begin with, as I fear I shan't be able to explain it as well as it deserves. Basically, the "Monsterverse" is just that: it's more than a collection of songs but rather a conceptual plane which Emma has caused to come into being: in her own words, it's ".. an immersive world where the listener is cast as the main character, exploring new worlds and battling with their own monsters they encounter along the way"… and which other artists go so far as to create such an experience around an EP? If you want to enter the Monsterverse (and frankly you'll be missing out on much of what Emma has been working on for so long if you don't, which is pretty disrespectful), you'd best try the portal at https://www.emmamcgann.com/monsterverse and play the intricate RPG with likeminded others.
As her quote illustrates, the "monsters" which inhabit the songs can of course be viewed in purely imaginary terms as per the excellent graphics which accompany the project, or you can understand them as Emma intends: manifestations of each person's own mental turmoils. That's why you get a survival kit when you enter the Monsterverse, which is a kind gesture. Emma is quite candid over the cathartic effect all this creativity has had on her own sets of anxieties and ultimately wishes to use this to help others.
Circling back to the songs, "Monsters" and "HEX" have already appeared as singles in their own right, so you probably know them to some extent already. Taken as a set though (and I think you really do need to do this, however strong each one may be, the sum of the parts is greater), you do get the sense of how close the subject matter is to Emma's heart. It's this feeling of honesty which is the final ingredient I believe in elevating music above the competent mundane into something more emotionally valid & if you haven't cottoned onto that through what I've just written & what you can find on her website, then it comes through on the tracks.
As well arranged and performed as you'll expect from an artist of this calibre, and yes, fully in touch with contemporary expectations of sound in terms of accessibility & dance capability, James' production tastefully keeps her voice to the fore so that what she is singing about is the clear focus of your attention. Since many people will come to the songs through streaming & on the radio rather than through crossing the hinterland Emma has laid out for them, the sense of spookiness & chills (plus desperation on "Anyone Else") can act as alternative entry points to the ‘verse: and this is another aspect of the innovation: pop music not only doesn't tread these paths often but it doesn't offer these feelings on the very surface either. One would hope that would offer sufficient intrigue for casual finders to want to plunge deeper.
‘Monsterverse' is a wonderful achievement on its own merits & the fact that Emma & team have managed to create such intricate yet compelling music with such depth within the parameters of mainstream music is hugely to their credit. I often express optimism in my reviews that a release I'm enthusing over will do commercially well for the (local) artist involved: in this case, Emma already has a massive audience invested in her music, so I think it will do well on that level: what it ought also to do is elevate her another level in the music world since it's her equivalent of ‘Dark Side of the Moon' in several respects…