“All the feels.”
It’s been the go-to catchphrase of late, a rollercoaster of emotion condensed to a three word (grammatically incorrect, but hey, it’s cool) sentence, because nowadays it’s all about the shorthand. 140-character thoughts, emoji hieroglyphic texts—all the necessary adjustments that come with our constant communication.
And this isn’t me throwing shade (or giving a ham-handed homage to Mr. Robot), because, let’s face it, I’m fully involved. It’s just when I first heard the album As Ever by the freshly-minted, Brooklyn-based duo, Gemma, I had “all the feels" but didn’t want to leave it that. When an LP dives into rhythm and blues, soul, funk, pop and electronica, you want to sift through these varied visceral layers and get specific.
Soul is relatable but it is never vague.
So let’s begin with the necessary details. The musicians behind the moniker include Felicia Douglass (of experimental indie rock troupe Ava Luna) and the producer Erik Gundel (of Motel Motel). Rumor has it the two met while playing at the same venue and instantly clicked; Gundel brought the electronic backdrop which Douglass complemented with her soft, silky vocals. Together, they’ve created an album that’s both relevant and presses on that nostalgia for the heyday of soul.
For instance, the title track “As Ever” starts off with a restaurant-bar ambience of clinking glasses, the indistinguishable chatter from between-set lulls. It’s a few seconds at most, but it brought me to the immediacy of dimly-lit jazz clubs, an image of Douglass crooning into a series II microphone—nostalgia at its best.
The song itself then drops off into a percussive, electronically-filtered drum backdrop, with Douglass’ crisp, songbird voice putting sopranos to shame as she effortlessly hits the high notes (I’m referencing the lyrics, “Opposite of perfect to feel alive / Always in and out focus we had to try” in particular).
“Mentals” then takes a shift from this iridescence to a more sultry exploration. It has a deliberate, rich, leisurely pace that draws you in even with its foreboding tones. This is a track with a seductive, “moth to the flame” kind of quality. Douglass’ light voice wafts over the down-tempo beat, recalling “While, while days were weeks / While, while blues taste sweet,” and suddenly that “bad decision” you were mulling over is cast in a new light. It’s all relative anyway, right?
Another low-key, but significantly lighter track is “Medals,” with its spiraling, almost xylophone-esque electronic beats that cast a spotlight on Gundel’s prowess. It’s clear these two musicians have a chemistry and charisma as you listen through their entire oeuvre (try not to sway or empathetically sing along as you give it a listen). The only moment of pause I had was with their 34-second track “With Mayo,” which felt more like performance art than an integral piece of their LP.
But, I’m too busy singing their praises to get stuck on it. Because there’s a new culturally-relevant buzzword that’s about to catch everyone’s attention, and it’s "Gemma."