Sewn Me Anew
Emma Lee Toyoda
(Make Fart Records)
And so we begin the new year with a world upside-down. Opinion is truth, news is fiction, a TV bully is President of the United States. With skewed perception comes, among other things, the opportunity for fresh eyes and ears. So when Emma Lee Toyoda describes her new release, Sewn Me Anew, as a “full-length album,” she makes a certain kind of sense. Never mind that this wildly robust curio runs a mere 22 minutes; in those 22 minutes Toyoda unfolds a world of ideas, moods, colors and textures. Whatever the length, this music is full.
At only 20 years old, Toyoda is already a known quantity among Seattle-music cognoscenti. Last year she was the audience favorite at EMP’s prestigious Sound Off! youth music competition and that summer she played Folklife and Timber!. Her four-piece backing band is the Millennial equivalent of a Benetton ad—multi-culti, multi-gender, fresh-faced and friendly but not without a certain artsy edge. (A similar posse of young creatives adorns the hand-drawn cover of Sewn Me Anew.) Toyoda and crew have released a handful of BandCamp singles but this is indeed her first collection of fully produced and engineered songs.
It’s a contiguous journey that—much like the progress of 2016—starts wide-eyed and peppy and ends somber and introspective. Yet there’s no cynicism here—only surrender. Throughout Sewn Me Anew,, songs wash into and out of each other, spiked intermittently by noisy, skronky interludes but maintaining a coherent sonic sensibility, even as new instruments arrive in the mix. Many of these numbers are hardly songs at all but rather connective tissue, ever-present atmosphere that shades the rest of the proceedings.
So though album opener “fuuuck” is a titled composition, it’s actually 40 seconds of atonal, echoey buildup to “Dream,” wherein Toyoda’s voice first appears in all its husky, acrobatic power. With violin delivering a mournful melody and an atonal saxophone blast outro, “Dream” is itself only 1:30. It bleeds directly into “Stop!”, a jaunty power-pop collision of fiddle-sawing folk and sax-led soul that clocks in at 2:10. Here’s where Toyoda most resembles Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, the San Francisco band whose A Man Alive was one of the great albums of last year.
More melodic concision comes with “Nunu” and “Pulling Hairs,” and then the album’s emotional timbre tilts with “Seasick,” taking a meditative, almost mystical tone. The closing trifecta are grave, achingly beautiful songs. “Forget Me Now” rides in on sumptuous sax before introducing banjo into a dramatic composition. “Laren Lorelai” and “Saoirse’s” are both set in a lovely, devastating mode that reveals the band’s full, heart-swelling potential. On the latter, Toyoda sings, “You know me you do/Sewn me anew/Shown me a truth/Forgive my youth.” In this case, Toyoda’s youth is an asset—no forgiveness necessary.