Though her records have previously explored a variety of topics ranging from the overdue birth of a baby dinosaur to the musical powers of the planet Neptune, as the title of her sixth album makes clear, Scout Niblett – or Emma, to her mum – has finally turned her gaze inwards.
The remarkably brazen It’s Up To Emma does a lot to set alight any notion of kookiness that might continue to plague her but Scout Niblett is still better appreciated as a formidable all round oddity than a particularly dazzling musician. Simplicity is too long a word for what’s going on here; her astounding wail of a voice is rarely accompanied by anything other than a guitar or drum, and only quite rarely are both of those instruments playing at once.
Even though they’ve been recorded with a sympathetic grit that ensures the album packs a punch even in its quieter moments, it’s almost as if what’s going on with the instruments is meant to be the last thing on your mind. Proper enjoyment requires a level of submission, an admittance that you’re going to let Scout do her thing, be that whispering, yelling or bellowing, and find out from it what you can.
Singing largely about herself, it’s an album littered with first person pronouns – ‘Can’t Fool Me Now’, ‘My Man’, ‘What Can I Do?’ – but its nine, stark selections of grungy folk rock are far from self indulgent. She inhabits situations that at their best are as gripping as any horror film; varying from mildly harrowing descriptions of love in ‘Woman and Man’ to outright premeditations on murder in the opening ‘Gun’, and though they’re nothing to do with you, you’re captivated by the conviction with which they’re delivered all the same.
In honesty, it’s not the sound of someone who sounds totally OK. It feels poised between angry raging and introspective shyness, often, as on the wildly dynamically varied ‘Could This Possibly Be?’, in the same song. What you’re meant to make of Scout Niblett’s state of mind at the end of it, other than having had your suspicions of her wild talent confirmed, is likely to be different for every listener.
Though It’s Up To Emma contains a few too many numbers unnecessarily stretching over four minutes when three would probably have gotten the point home with more force, there is one such song (‘Can’t Fool Me Now’) that warrants such a running time. A defiantly sprawling number that builds from the most threadbare of guitar-led beginnings into a string laden, choral epic, it finds Niblett sounding surprisingly comfortable with being out on a limb. The feeling of empowerment it provides her translates with majesty to the listener, too. Imbibing such personal performances with a universally relatable humanity is the greatest strength to a record that makes fragility sound pretty devastating.