At the beginning of this year, Emily Yacina, from Philadelphia but living in New York, created gently-rippling waves on the internet when she posted her homespun EP, Pull Through, online. Home base for the unsigned singer-songwriter is her Bandcamp, a place that reveals a gradual transition from lonesome acoustic guitar strumming to the introduction of light synths and four years of steady, prolific work. Yacina has continued that trend by bookending 2015 with her latest release, Soft Stuff.
A collection of six brief songs, Soft Stuff is over in less than fifteen and a half minutes, a duration that underscores the general sense of ephemerality and fragility of the album. With strange, layered vocal lines that rarely rise over a whisper, and the guitar effects and synth washes that slide under them in languid compositions, it feels like a momentary glimpse through the window of a dollhouse into the pristine but surreal rooms inside. Yacina has created something intricate and delicate, equal parts pretty and oddly uncanny.
Part of that window-gazing feeling comes from the way Yacina doles out imagery, hinting at narratives with little snapshots of vivid images but never quite piecing them together. In “Loser,” the perfect album opener, she sings, “Can you do that again? / Can you say what you said / When you were holding my hand / Before you let go of it?” Though the refrain admits the addressee was right, the “that” and “what” of the song remain elusive. Even so, the impression of the story is strong—and it is sad.
The most emotive on the album, though, is also one of its most evasive, the title track “Soft Stuff.” The words are sometimes indecipherable (the clearest is, appropriately, “Everything gets louder with the windows open”), but whispered over a simple chord progression of lo-fi strumming and light touches of synth, they create a picture of tenderness, either in the form of heartbreak or its opposite. Maybe some of the untraceable feeling comes from the fact that the song bears some resemblance to “Sea of Love” by Cat Power, an artist who could be Yacina’s slightly less weird older sister. Most of the song’s force, however, is definitely the artist’s own.
Not all of Soft Stuff is precious dollhouses and vague sadness. On the last track, “A Curse,” Yacina tells another story (in a doubled expressive voice a few degrees above a whisper), this time with clearer images. “You spill all the wine on my bed / But you won’t remember that,” she sings, crystallizing her abstractions into a relatable scene. Though even the narrative of “A Curse” is never entirely transparent, its images pull together the sense of parting on bad terms and the bitterness that ensues.
As this last song exposes, underneath the ethereal, weird beauty of Soft Stuff, there’s still the singer-songwriter from her early Bandcamp days painting emotionally-driven, impressionistic tunes with a delicate brush. And assuming she continues along her trend of the last four years, it thankfully won’t be long until we hear more of it from her.