In Emily’s D+Evolution, prodigious bass talent and vocalist, Esperanza Spalding showcases her almost superhuman propensity for shifting musical moods on a dime, not to mention time-signatures. Spalding alternately lulls us with short ambient tracks like The Break 2 and Intermission, and puts us through the paces on bass workouts like Funk the Fear, one of a handful of tracks on the album that have a decided Les Claypool/Primus feel. As she takes us on a whirlwind sonic trip through the possibly unhinged mind of the titular superheroine Emily, she doesn’t do much to conceal her varied musical influences; the tonalities of 90s alternative rock, show tunes, prog rock, jazz fusion, and an idiosyncratic vocal style that seems indebted to the great vocalists of Brazil, and singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos in equal measure, clash atop inscrutable and ever-changing rhythms schizophrenically.
This album is not without its flaws. The strong structures are sometimes overly spastic, and self-indulgent. The changes can feel unearned, and for music that is so self-consciously “artsy” as this, the production is a bit flat and conventional. Lyrically, Spalding sometimes crosses the invisible line between heart-felt and corny. Despite these shortcomings, the album is exciting and interesting on the whole, anchored throughout by Spalding’s frequently mind-blowing bass innovations , and there is an infectious ebullience and generosity to the music that is hard to argue with. Recommended.