Icons Creating Evil Art
Emma Nylén’s work as Emmon has evolved considerably since the project’s electroclash flavoured debut in the mid-aughts. With 2019’s Under Construction, a stronger EBM flavour became more apparent in Nylén’s work, with body music basslines and drums acting as the foundation for her smokey synth compositions. The tension between those elements is key to RECON‘s success, with its songs functioning both as synthesized pop and pounding club contenders alike.
It’s probably splitting hairs to question whether any of these tracks are body music with pop elements overlayed or the reverse, although there’s certainly cuts that favour each sound. For example the standout “Purebloods” has a banging uptempo techno-body feel that would work just as well as an instrumental, but becomes something else entirely when Nylén and guest vocalist Emanuel Åström of Agent Side Grinder start crooning their way through its trancey gates and squelchy machine-gun bass sequences. Conversely “For Real” and “The Battle” play more as Black Celebration-esque regal synthpop, with the more aggressive rhythmic touches backgrounded for plonky leads and breathy string sounds. Nylén even pulls off a few interesting gearshifts between those styles, flipping the syncopated thump of “The Game” with a twinkly bridge, subtly stretching out her otherwise underplayed delivery to good effect.
On the topic of how Emmon uses her voice, the record does feel like it underuses her range as a singer. Opener “Machines” demonstrates that Nylén can sing in a distinctive soprano, strong enough to punch through the dense arrangement of kicks, panned percussion sounds and a very insistent 16th note bassline. And yet much of the record finds her doing a more low-key, monotone delivery, inherited from her earlier electro style releases. It’s an approach works on “Like a Drum” specifically because that song’s mechanical nature demands a flatter, less showy performance, but falls short when applied to the burbly and bouncy “Mindfull Mess” which could benefit from some vocal verve and energy. Generally speaking her choice is the right one, but you can’t help but wonder what the Rein-esque “Recovery” or the torchy closer “Power of Mind Over Matter” might have sounded like if she had leaned into them with a little more upper register gusto.
RECON is at its core the kind of record that can read differently depending on the listener. Some will find music that clearly slots into the current slate of industrialized pop, while others will hear a tweaked and muscled-up version of the sort of millennial synth chanteuse music made by artists like Ladytron, Goldfrapp or Miss Kittin & the Hacker. That’s indicative of a pretty solid effort by Emmon to keep songs accessible, fast-moving and easy to listen to without excessive adornment, but plenty of substance.