Now or Never
Now or Never is available from
The E.P. Now or Never is available on 12 January 2014, or available as a pre-order via iTunes:
Ahead of the release of her E.P. (of the same name), comes an intriguing sonic slice. Many solo artists come, and shortly fade. Miss. Kay should have no fear, as we head into 2014…
FOR the final time of this calendar year, I am once again casting my mind….
to the world of the solo artist. I have spent the past year or so vicariously living through a variety of musicians. From the band, through to U.S. solo artist, I have spewed crescendos of praise and admiration- and sometimes, hyperbole- all of the time, pitching tent on the same common ground: how difficult the music business is. The ‘difficulty’ arises when plotting and planning your ambitions. Whether you have three or four band colleagues watching your back or are by yourself, it is a tough and unpredictable climb. Leaps of faith have to be taken; compromises arrived at; futurology and telepathy are enflamed lovers. Overall, there is a labyrinth of obstacles and pitfalls to predict, negotiate and overcome. When surveying and considering a new talent, I am always filled with a pre-requisite of admiration and respect. As a semi-licensed songwriter myself, I have spent years (about fourteen in fact), scribbling scenes, dreams and frustrated inner visions, all the while speculating whether these words and ideas would ever reach the studio. As it stands I am a theoretical singer/songwriter: all the words are written (and an album’s worth of material completed), yet none has been committed to tape. I have found that the transition step between thought and reality is an oppressive one to realise. In previous blog posts I have stated how expensive it is to record music. It may be axiomatic, but even a simple (or uncluttered) acoustic number can cost hundred of pounds to record. Many of my (musical) friends have completed recording E.P.s and singles, and although most were recorded at home/friends’ studios, the plain truth is this: the cost is a pivotal demon. Whether finances are raised through crowd-sourcing or employment, it takes a lot of time, effort and patience to acquire the necessary capital. I have bridled when faced with the cold hard truth: realising my (wildly ambitious) songs will be a costly- and perhaps impossible- horizon. No matter, for my personal woes, proclivities and depressions are for another day (and another blog). Financial constraints are a big barrier for the new songwriter, but there is another- and perhaps larger- problem: the vast competition. When reviewing new acts, most have left me a little tepid to be fair- there are a rare few that capture my attention fully. The band market has its own idiosyncrasies and personality quirks, yet it is the solo market which throws forth the most draconian gravity. All of the creative input, financial considerations and foresight needs to be generated and sustained by just one human. Few are fortunate enough to acquire a manager or record label off the bat, so the infant years of one’s career can be a lonely and fickle one. The music industry (and the media especially) gleefully toys with new talent: wrapping them in gold-threaded blankets one week; throwing them off a cliff top the next. When codifying and solidifying plans of (musical) action, the solo artist often can implode from the stress. I have always been impressed that the lone star gets as far as the studio- let alone makes it past E.P./album one. Once you have pressed and distributed your music, it is not a case of sitting back and waiting for kudos. New released have to be considered; gigs and tours planned; creative chess moves plotted. Wheels are constantly in motion, and the mind and body are conjoined in perpetual motion. Throw in the fact that the burgeoning market continues unabated, there is a territory- and no-less-foreboding- concern: overcrowding. Whether you are a skilled and wonderful songwriter or a plastic pop muppet, there is always going to be dozens (or hundreds) of like-minded musicians on your back. Whether you’re a northern soul/pop act or a European disco outfit, there is always going to be inevitable competition. As much as I love the solo artist, I am wholly conscious of the fact that they are amongst the largest sect of musicians there is. Too many seem to lack the heart and bite necessary to sustain appeal and plaudit, whilst too many subjugate originality and a unique voice, in favour of a homogenised bore. As I look towards the next year, and pour wine on the embers of the past 360-odd days, I cannot help but wonder what trends will be promoted towards the solo market. It is clear that a staunch and hearty resilience are tantamount to longevity; a unique talent and sound needs to be moulded; a vote-winning campaign is crucial. With the likes of Justin Bieber- and I hope, Miley Cyrus- not long for the music world, perhaps 2014 will favour a mature and sophisticated sound: one where instrumentation, range and intelligence are preferred over nauseating platitudes and saccharine ineptitude. As eyes and ears are primed towards January, it is vital that early- and lethal- shots are fired, in order for the solo star to augment their potential and claim a spot at the dinner table. This- perhaps ineloquently- bring me to my subject…
Emily Kay is perhaps a name unfamiliar to many. I was introduced to Kay via record label Brick London Ltd. A couple of kind contacts I have acquired have been singing her praises; encouraging me to seek out her music and dissect her songs. When looking into the biography and bibliography of Emily Kay, there is plenty to suggest that she will be a name synonymous to many this time next year. The first thing one will notice is that is a mesmeric sight. Beauty and sex appeal are an irrelevant digression when it comes to music, yet one can not help but to be spellbound by Kay’s beauty. She is a mix of girl-next-door cuteness and raw sex appeal: there is a beguiling mix of reserved class and poster girl potential. The current market is awash with diminutive and cutesy solo acts. A few stunning Sirens drop jaws, yet there are fewer now than ever. It is a minor chord I know, but when inspiring young women or older men, the look and aesthete of the solo artist can be an important factor. Kay has a loveable and gorgeous smile, and a stylish and elegant wardrobe. Before one investigates her words and history, you get the impression that here is a role model for the modern age- yet one that has the elegance and bewitching allure of jazz and soul legends such as Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Kay is a young, vibrant and hungry talent, and one whom has been making waves and impressions around the U.K. She is based out of Birmingham, yet has enjoyed residencies in London and various venues throughout the country: bringing her unique voice and sounds to many adoring ears. Kay’s E.P. is imminent, yet I have cast my attention to her single, Soldier. This is a striking and mesmeric song; one which perfectly highlight’s our heroine’s golden voice, as well as displaying a mature and imaginative lyrical mind. Soldier has been garnering a lot of praise and compliments from social media as well as YouTube. Radio stations and music-lovers alike has been hypnotised by a rare talent. That single (Solider) was a stand-out from her previous E.P., and is by no means a wonderful aberration. Kay has been recording and releasing music for a while, and singles such as Hold Me Closely as well as her E.P. Emily Kay Unplugged has won favour from vast sectors, as well as acquiring patronage from stations such as M.T.V. In many of my reviews, I have emphasised the importance of geographical location; not just in terms of providing a unique reference point, but also giving some historical basis too. I have seen some wonderful acts from Yorkshire arise triumphantly. From soulful pop through to electro-swing, it is a county that offers ripe bounty. Mancunian and Liverpudlain solipsistic bands have engaged and enflamed the senses, whilst London-based solo acts have provided much thoughtfulness. When it comes to a reconnaissance of the Midlands, there has been little to recommend. Emily Kay is a proud Midlander, and she mixes the sounds and sights of her native ground; blending in jazz and gospel influences. When Kay visited New York as a teenager, she become enamoured of jazz: this in turn spurred her to persue a career in music. As well as some folk-tinged edges, one can hear influences of Billie Holiday and Angie Stone in her mandates. Kay’s voice is a truly individualised sound, and a stunning instrument that has won her many fans. Having performed across London- including sets at Camden Lock and Underbelly of Hoxton- she has cast her spells across the capital. In addition, Kay has won the Unsigned Hyper award; as well as being nominated for ‘Best Female Act’ at the 2012 B.E.F.F.T.A. Awards. With an illustrious and impressive background, and a high-resolution desire on the present, Kay is sure to evolve rapidly into next year. As it stands she has a fair few hundred followers and fans across social media- yet not as many as she deserves. I am confident that her ensuing E.P. will address my concerns and confusion. I have postulated that the reason so many great acts are overlooked early on, is because of the sheer number of acts available on the market. It is evident that Kay has received some much-deserved accolade, as well as winning over legions of support; but I feel that there is still a lot more attention required. Kay is a singer whom focuses on the vicissitudes and vagrancies of love. Whilst perusing the track list to her E.P., there is evidence to support this. Amongst the five tracks of Now or Never, one gets the sense that broken hearts and broken promises have enforced the themes within. Songs such as You Hurt Me and Missing You Like Crazy display flipsides to romantic endeavour: there is regret and blame as well as longing and loneliness. Now or Never and I’m In Love also wear their hearts on their sleeves, and are stocked with panaceas for mediocrity. There is imagination and intrigue within each song, and colour and light burst through each note. Even within tales of sadness and disarray, there is a redemptive spirit: one that would make the likes of Holiday and Stone proud. Previous songs and releases have proven what a bold and ambitious talent Kay is, and Now or Never continues this consistency. The next month will see a whole host of new acts vying for attention and fans. Whilst the solo market can be seen as a packed and competitive arena, Kay should have no fear or trepidations. Her singular voice will set her aside from her peers. This, tied to lyrics and sonic layers that are filled with nuance, completes an intoxicating parabond- there is never a sense of anything other than fascination and mystery. Directness and honesty also come to the fore, and it is clear that our heroine has honed her songs and spent a great deal of consideration ensuring that the maximum emotional resonance is evident throughout. All of my honeyed words may seem like lip service or empty praise: you only have to hear Kay’s music to know this is not the case. Now or Never is but a few weeks away, and I would implore everyone to investigate the annals and treasure chest Kay has already produced- before tackling her latest tracks. Once this has been done, one will get a much greater sense of where Kay is coming from, as well as enhance the overall listening experience. Now or Never features a selection box of romantic assortment; filled with rich centres and complex flavours. The title track and lead-off single is a perfect assessment of this metaphor: it is a track that lays out Kay’s intentions and emotions within its chords and words. Kay has ensured that she says as much as is necessary in order to bring the best out of her E.P. Whilst most musicians may plump for a three-track E.P., Kay has given consideration to range and fullness: fewer blanks and spaces need to be filled in by the listener. Of course throughout everything it is the central voice of our heroine that says the most. The title track is possibly the clearest demonstration of her vocal prowess. Sit back; relax; press play, and let it wash over you.
The opening few seconds of Now or Never allows a transitory musical moment, before Kay’s rich vocal swoons into view. At first a wordless coo is elicited, before a romantic plea is enunciated: “So, will you come away with me?”. Within the space of this brief sentiment, Kay manages to unfurl a true sense of conviction and emotion. The first thing one notices is the voice itself. There is perhaps a little of early-career Macy Gray- without the divisiveness or same degree of gravel- and the sweeter edges of Billie Holiday. In a sense, the voice has a child-like insouciance, coupled with a weighty gravitas. Kay loves her sweetheart “crazily“; her innermost confessions are backed by a breezy and sensual soundtrack. In the video for the song, our heroine is bedecked in style. Her clothing is fashionable and striking; Kay is the antidote the immature over-sexualisation of many young female (and male) stars. Her music is doing the talking, and there is no need for flashing of the flesh. Kay conveys dignity and panache enough, and circumvents any preconceptions one would have, when they approach the video. As the song concerns longing and remembrance, it is perhaps appropriate that there is an semblance of demure. Backed by a drum beat that is metronomic and punchy, Kay lets her voice pout, pop and slink as she recounts experiences past, as well as home truths (“I know you love me/And I love you“). Within the initial third of the song, the listener gets a clear sense of things. We can detect the influence of the strong female role models such as Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone, with a touch of the (perhaps more promiscuous and controversial) ones such as Billie Holiday and Amy Winehouse. There is the mannerism and restraint of Holiday, as well as the power of Winehouse to be heard. The vocal sound is a modernised and fresh variation and regeneration of those (idols), but has the uniqueness and distinct personality that is Kay’s alone. One can also tells that there is fondness and a sense of uplift within the initial lines. Negativity and recrimination are not at the forefront, as Kay sets out her thesis. As we head to the chorus, our heroine asks questions of her beau; searching and probing as she lays her heart out. There is a sense of daring and deadline. Kay has a sense of ardent longing, as well as coquettish glee to her words and voice, and as the infectious chorus is unveiled, a smile is plastered on her face (as the video demonstrates). Perhaps the wordless interjections that accompany the coda of “It’s now or never” are a touch extraneous, yet in a way they add sway and ballast to the sentiments being offered forth. The video helps to accompany and emphasise the necessity of the words. When the words “It’s now or never” are repeated and spun with perpetual longing, Kay points her finger to a table. There is a look on her face that suggests she means business, and wants her lover to step up and shape up. As Kay prepare another verse, a great sense of understanding has been implanted in our minds, and it is clear what the themes and cores of the song are. As we settle back down, our heroine recalls some fond- if perhaps sexually-charged and evocative- visions: “If the phone rings/We act like we’re not home“. As elegant and tony as our subject is, she has a sexual and passionate side- there is never a sense of a reserved lover waiting in the shadows. Kay continues her survey of glorious memories; recalling impassioned clinches and dimly-lit bedroom scenes. The listener is taking inside (not too graphically, mind) into an intense and concupiscent stage, where two lovers are letting their tongues and desires do the talking. In that sense, there is as much as a relation to the modern-day soul and pop core, as there is to the more sensualised cuts from the likes of Franklin, Holiday and (Angie) Stone. The sweat and decibel levels increase as Kay elongates her amorous recollections. Her lover and she clearly have a unique simpatico. Within the ecstasy (“We’re going nowhere“), the pair have a mutual longing and affection, which Kay channels through her voice. As the chorus swings with braggadocio glee, the listener is afforded opportunity to reflect and piece more of the tale together. As well as the sound of her voice and vocal style, there are stylistic comparisons one can levy towards Now or Never. A hint of cross pollination and amalgamation from Macy Gray’s On How Life Is-cum-Songs for Distingué Lovers Billie Holiday. After the sexual exsanguination has abated, Kay reminisces about gilded travelogues, where she took long walks in the park with her sweetheart. Sun-drenched scenes and holiday memories are recounted: “On the beach/catching rays/Sipping sweet wine“. Clearly a vast amount of precious and treasured memories are locked within Kay’s mind, and the clear smile remains on her face (as you can tell, once more, from the video). Towards the final third of the song, the mood becomes more fractured and sombre. Kay explains that (if her lover) stays, then she will have to go, “‘Cause my heart/Can take no more“. In spite of the regret and near-disconsolateness, our heroine still projects power, dignity and panache through her voice. There is no drop in tempo or emotional resonance: the constant force and engagement that Kay projects does not drag the listener into a storm of sorrow; instead simply state a plain truth. Knowing what we have just learnt, the reintroduction of the chorus carries a different weight. Whereas before there was romance, happiness and longing defining “It’s now or never“, it seems that a slightly dislocated and discontent sigh has crept in. The song ends with questions hanging in the air. It is unsure if Kay is united once more with her love, or whether the bond is broken beyond repair. Such is the intrigue and structure of the song, that one has a cliff-hanger left. It is obvious that the two were in love and has some wonderful times; but there may be no way back for the two. Within the indigo masquerades and moonlit seductiveness, Kay unleashed romantic firepower and incredible sexiness through her voice and words. One cannot help but be cast asunder and drawn into her world; her tales and her passion. There is a glimmering of Erykah Badu in the way that our heroine bears her soul so honestly. Kay’s single Soldier (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxZwC7zQVAo) was a more slowed-down, stripped-back and introspective gem; one that crackled with vintage touches (the black-and-white video and crackling on the record) and tender affection. In that song, her sweetheart was her soldier; brave and noble. That track has a more conclusive and satisfactory resolution, and was one side to Kay’s emotional coin. Whether the same man is the centrifuge and subject of Now or Never is unclear, yet it seems like a continuation of the saga. Kay- over the course of those two tracks- shows her versatility and dexterity as a songwriter, singer and Siren. Soldier was a swaying and gorgeous paen to a staunch ally; whereas Now or Never has an ambiguous charm and multidirectional lustre. After repeated plays of Now or Never, I cannot help but be won over and in awe of Kay. She is clearly a sophisticated and strong woman, but one whom has a tender and sexually-charged side. She is captivating to watch, and is a stunning and striking human, but one whose voice is the synonymous gem in the chest. It may not strike you instantly or fully; yet given enough time and consideration it will seep into your veins and swim freely. I have made comparisons between Kay and other singers; yet it is remiss if I were to see her as a supplementary singer. She embodies her heroines and heroes; incorporates some of their timbre, majesty and style, but does so as a means of keeping their legacy aflame. At its epicentre, Now or Never is a lovable and evolved beast of Kay’s own making. She sparsely sources her words, managing to convey the maximum evocation and force with as few syllables as possible. Her phrasing, articulation and delivery is individualised, and this, parabond with a bare-naked but potent musical backing kicks up a plentiful and heady brew.
After sitting back and considering Now or Never and Kay as a whole, it is obvious that the next year will be productive, indeed. I am not sure what styles and sounds are going to be favoured, but I am confident that intelligent, gripping and stunning solo artists will have a place, high up the pecking order. Kay’s voice may not appeal to everyone, and it may take a few listens to truly appreciate her sound and music; yet it is well worth repeated listens. There are too many bland and pointless singers on the scene, whom assume that anyone will listen to their music, just for the hell of it. They seem to labour under the impression that there is an ear for anything they write. I- as well as countless others- are sick of the lack of ambition, quality and consideration that new artists provide. If you want to involve yourself in music, then at least have something to say that is worth attention. Kay is an artist that has the power and determination to succeed and flourish. The following year will see its predictable flood of candidates- some of whom will be truly worthy of merit; most will not. The nature of success and patronage is built around a pre-requisite of quality control and personality. Kay has an engaging appeal and a backstory that is worthy of closer inspection. I have been affiliated with, and attached to her music, for only a few weeks, yet have done some serious listening and investigation. Soldier is, and was, a bold statement and perfect distillation of what our heroine is capable of- as well as hinting at what future songs will contain. Her previous E.P. gained plenty of praise, yet was deserving of more. Now that more ears and eyes are aware of her music, it is probable that Now or Never will make up for that. The self-titled single is a great start, and the remainder of the E.P. is chocked full with emotion, romance and vivid imagery. Truly pioneering artists are those whom not only can win you over with their music, yet inspire fellow songwriters. I have found much to recommend from the chords and lyrics of Now or Never. There are musical flourishes and lines that have captured my ear and invigorated me to spin some multi-coloured webs. Vocal tones and atmospheric touches have caused rejuvenation, and as a consequence, some of my songs have been bolstered and galvanised. In spite of my words and proclamations, the true test will come down to one thing: the public vote. As fickle as music journalism is, it is nothing when compared with that- as well as lack of foresight and appreciation- of the public. Too many have too little knowledge of what came before, and what constitutes great music. There are children and young adults whom naively subjugate music because it was ‘before their time’; genres and legends collect dust because they are not being shoved directly down their throats. It is a sad sign of an appalling generation, and a disturbing hint at what the world will become in (short) years to come. The ‘digital age’ has taken away people’s imaginations, and there is still a strong desire for ‘newness’- fewer older bands are being retained and gaining new fans. Kay is a talent whom has a fond appreciation and fascination of past masters and mistresses, and soul and jazz greats can be detected in her music. The ’50s, ’60s and ’70s legends deserve perennial reappraisal and tribute, and the best way to do this- as well as playing their music- is to incorporate their D.N.A. and blood into fresh and vibrant modern sounds. Anyway, I shall curtail my rant, and leave you with a final thought. It is crucial and mandatory that there is less derision and imperiousness from the so-called ‘music-lover’. The only way that great new acts get just-rewards; and past masters are kept within people’s hearts is by being bolder and more patient. Too many acts and acts are buried and past over because of short-attention spans on behalf of the listener. If you dig deeper and give music time to grow, then the inherent benefits will be revealed. Kay is an artist whom may not have been familiar to many, and she may have a sound that seems ‘unusual’ to many. If you are determined to force yourself to have a ‘new year’s resolution’, then bravery and boldness should be that. In life, that can begin with taking risks and pushing yourself out of the comfort zone. When extended to music, that can lead to new discoveries and broadened horizons. When that has occurred, it means that endorphin ripples happen. You begin to notice music that you may have not considered before. This leads to a more variegated music collection. From there, you expand your mind and maybe, perhaps, pick up pen and paper and start to write yourself. From there, well… who knows. The genesis and seed is planted when you take that first step. This means beholding artists and songs that have been foreign or undiscovered up until now. As far as first steps go…
EMILY Kay is a sure-footed and safe one to take.
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