One of the goals here at Team GDW this year (in addition to hoping for a safer global community and a return to live music) is to reignite some of our older recurring features – such as the “Random Record Revival” (revisiting older albums) and “Take A Chance On Me” (random unknown artists) series. Even the popular “Find A New Favorite” series has been in limbo since last March, so we’re kicking off the new year with the first of (hopefully) many introductions to artists you may not be familiar with, but who rightfully could become the latest addition to your listening library.
We recently encountered the music of Canadian artist Ember Swift, whose “Mid-March Meltdown” album (released March 2021) caps an extensive back catalog of music that dates back to the previous century. Raised in Toronto, and currently residing in Beijing, China, Swift is an incredibly versatile singer-songwriter and guitarist, who started writing songs at nine years old, and was performing on stage the following year.
Having released her debut self-titled album in 1996, her thirteenth album “Mid-March Meltdown” is possibly her most melodically memorable collection to date. Recorded in Beijing, and co-produced with fellow Canadians Gabriel Beaudoin (The Spice Cabinet) and Tim Abraham (Laila Biali), this collection of thirteen songs not only offer an interesting fusion of pop, funk, jazz and reggae, but are also filled with enough hooks and grooves to keep you humming the choruses long after the songs have ended.
I’m sure it could be easy for the casual listener to approach such an adventurous album with some sense of doubt; that adding too many musical influences to the broth leads to a cross-pollination that dilutes the finish. But on “Mid-March Meltdown,” this proves not to be the case, with each and every track dancing beautifully between genres, Ember and her band blending such unique sounds together with natural ease and progression.
If you want to bring on the funk, start out with “It’s Like That.” The introduction is so vintage and timeless, with funky guitar licks, the snare driven beat, and peppy keys that add extra depth – before a short guitar solo that could make Carlos Santana blush bursts through the speakers. Skip over to “Anyway” if you’re looking for those smooth, head-bobbing reggae beats. Ember’s vocals may have western roots and Chinese influences, but the vibe here is all Caribbean. The smooth sounds remain during “Broken Thing,” but prepare to be overwhelmed by how easily those reggae vibes are quickly traded for a much more mellow jazz-based affair.
Quite distinctly the most pop-oriented offering on the album, the opening track “Be My Home” still incorporates plenty of jazz and soul at its core. “Play what you want to play / You’re not getting away with those games from your early days / Just do what you really feel / It is all allowed / Then meet me where it’s real / Tell me to go and I will go.” Ember wrote this particular track upon returning to Canada after spending many years in China, and began questioning what the concept of ‘home’ truly meant – something that an expat like myself can certainly understand. “You, my love, you could be my home.”
I very quickly found myself hitting repeat many times at the conclusion of “I Don’t Love You,” a melodic pop tune with more than a little late 80s aura wrapped around it. “Open up your eyes to see / I was never into you / You’re starting at me endlessly / You’re creepier than Doctor Who.” The beat, the pacing, the guitar rings, and the vocals all pay homage to the era incredibly well, but with the arrival of Ember’s choral “I don’t want you” cries around the 2:20 mark, this track is quickly elevated into an all-out power rock belter.
And with the bridge that follows, Ember delivers her lines with enough intensity to draw out the goosebumps: “If you want someone that does not want you back just walk away / All this staring, stalking, clocking every move is not okay / If you want someone that does not want you back just walk away / All this staring, stalking, clocking every move is not okay / Yeah, I don’t love you.” Such powerful stuff that keeps the throttle floored until the closing seconds, ending abruptly with Ember’s final plea that “This has got to stop now.”
“Mid-March Meltdown” is not only an interesting and well produced project, it is a great launching point for those of us who have very little familiarity with the music of Ember Swift. Go ahead and give this one a whirl for yourselves, but if you come looking for me, I may be lost for a while in her back catalog getting my fill of more great tunes from our latest Find A New Favorite.