I first heard the test mixes of what would eventually become Emily Reo‘s new album Olive Juice in a car, driving through Western Massachusetts with Miles Coe. Miles, Jake Yuhas and Andrew Sardinha, who together make up Treehouse Recording, had just finished recording vocals for the album, which they were also mixing and mastering in their studio in Newton. The album was still in its baby stages, but they already couldn’t wait to share what they were working on.
The moment the first bars of “Metal” came through the car stereo, it became clear as to why. “Metal” is actually a pretty dark song, but something about the combination of Emily’s fried vocals, swoony synths, and meditative beats gave me a giddy, almost ASMR-like shiver of euphoria. It was already a dreamy sort of day—golden fall sunlight, New England trees in various stages of change, a long hangout drive, big sky magic. Everything was in transition then—I was probably going to leave Massachusetts although I wanted to stay, Miles was probably going to stay in Massachusetts although he wanted to leave, it seemed like everyone’s living arrangements were constantly falling through, and, with the world in flux as it was, car rides provided the only peaceful refuge. “Rainbow Road” came on, its twinkling music box synths mixed in with the good vibes in the car and the golden light and now the promise of this album soon to be in the world, and I felt momentarily sure that a lot of next level things were going to happen in the next year, and it would all be okay.
I moved out of Dreamhaus and to New York, Emily and Noah moved out of New York and into Dreamhaus, Treehouse kept working on Olive Juice, and, as soon as I got ahold of an early version, I must have listened to this album every single day.
Olive Juice has been in the works for the last four years. Early, ultra lo-fi versions of “Blue Canoe,” “Metal,” “Wind,” and “Coast” can all be found on 2009′s Minha Gatinha and 2010′s aptly titled Witch Mtn, though they are barely recognizable. Songs that started out buried in deep haze have been honed to sparkling pop gems, their magic made stronger through years of devoted practice. Every part of Olive Juice feels intentional, proving that good things are well worth the time they take to get right.
And everything does sound exactly right. The album is perfectly coherent, kept together by multiple levels of internal rhythms. Hypnotic, bouncy synth lines flow through all eight tracks, which are also tied together thematically, with recurring references to aloneness and togetherness, movement, and, of course, Mario Kart. “Wind” starts out declaring “Sometimes I’m all alone / but that’s okay / I like it that way” but “Peach” follows, wondering “why don’t you stay by my side? / we’re fastest together / don’t have to be all alone.” Every song keeps to internal rhythms as well, each one a spell made up of chanted lines and sustained repetition. Darker themes are balanced by bright production. Melancholy fades effortlessly to nostalgia fades to reassurance fades to hope. Warm bummer pop. Nature and the internet. “Coast” floats. “Happy Birthday” gets me right in the feels. By the time the album comes to a catharsis on “Car,” (a Built to Spill cover), feels are all kinds of out of control.
Besides spending time on her own work, Emily has spent the past few years co-organizing FMLY fests along both coasts, touring extensively along the floating DIT continent, and working together with some incredibly inspiring people from all corners of the DIT arts world. Even if Olive Juice were an album that appeared in my inbox out of nowhere, it would be a beautifully articulated pop record that I would be giddy about. It’s just that much more awe-inspiring when gorgeous, carefully made art emerges not out of a series of transactions and business-minded negotiations, but out of organically built relationships within an interdependent community of friends.
I first saw physical copies of Olive Juice in a car, driving through Orlando (Emily’s hometown) with Emily and Noah on the way to Total Bummer. The records, released by Gainesville-based record label / art collective Elestial Sound, were amazing to see made real. Things were transitional again. I was heading back to New York for the time being, but Dreamhaus had just had its last show ever, Emily and Noah were moving out to LA, where, in a couple of months, they will likely be joined by Treehouse buds and the rest of Massachusetts-based FMLY. This time though, it felt okay. Road magic and music magic could still be counted on in amorphous times. Everyone was doing a lot of really next level things, and it didn’t feel like we were doing them alone. The album hadn’t even been released yet, but I already couldn’t wait for everyone to hear it.
Olive Juice is available now via Elestial Sound.