Emily Jane White is one of those rare folksingers who brings something distinct to this timeless genre. Her latest release, Ode to Sentience, sounds like nothing you've heard before, but it should have no problem aging gracefully.
White has been described as a "gothic folk" artist, bringing a dark, brooding aesthetic to her mostly acoustic guitar-based tracks. Though her songs are deeply emotional, there's always a sense that she's holding something back, and the feeling of restraint makes her work all the more alluring. Her voice — simple, polished, and refreshingly un-diva-ish — sets her apart from the various female artists she's been compared to, including Tori Amos and Kate Bush. Through songs of suicide, deathbed regrets, and several variations of heartache, White's vocals stay calm and self-possessed. The contrast heightens the sense of her characters' desperation, and leaves a more haunting effect on her listeners.
"The Cliff" stands out as an example, in which White sings with her characteristic detachment about suicide and self-destruction, over a deceivingly light-hearted, mid-tempo beat and the wail of a lap steel guitar. Tracks like "Oh Katherine" and "The Law" are more firmly rooted in a traditional American folk aesthetic, with simple instrumentation and complex storytelling. The album's first single, "Requiem Waltz," will particularly resonate with Tori Amos fans. It's one of White's more theatrical tracks, marked by a frantic strings section against a more restrained piano.
But White's strengths as a songwriter shine brightest in the more simple, stripped-down tracks, which avoid anything contrived or trendy. With a haunting voice and rich, nuanced lyrics, she's able to inspire listeners through true mastery of her craft, and minimal fanfare. (Antenna Farm)