Album of the Day — October 19
Emily Brown — A Fish of Earth
Emily Brown — A Fish of Earth
A Fish of Earth
Emily Brown’s A Fish of Earth is an album that forgoes any traditional pop sensibility.
This is a record of experimentation that ends up creating that rarest thing, art.
Normally, I wouldn’t think to mention the recording process, but it seems relevant in this case.
While studying in San Francisco, Brown shared some of her phone recordings with producers Bly Wallentine and Stuart Wheeler, who were back in Utah. Brown’s guitar and piano playing were stripped out at their suggestion, and the producers suggested orchestrating the songs to highlight their simplicity.
An interesting approach to the songs.
In January of 2019, Brown was able to join Wallentine and Wheeler in the studio to begin formally recording the album. The resulting A Fish of Earth used a cavalcade of Salt Lake City musicians and still managed to keep the sound simple.
Emily Brown is the daughter of several generations of Mormon pioneers. She said:
I grew up with this very powerful inner censor, always wanting to be correct and believing that what came ‘naturally’ to me wasn’t necessarily right.
This led to Brown’s desire to create, to make art. She struggled with her art compared to what the church wanted from her — self-denial, motherhood, and wifehood. All three of those topics imbue A Fish on Earth.
A Fish of Earth is a cornucopia of interesting creative choices. On songs like the albums opener “Amen Amen” and “Marianne,” these choices are a little challenging to get through. But then on songs like “I Haven’t Been Through Any of That,” it all works.
There are a rawness and uniqueness to “Baby Wanting” with its straight-ahead, almost pop-sounding vocal paired with what sounds like children’s instruments, which seems only fitting.
As you may guess by the song’s title, the lyrics of “Baby Wanting” address some of Brown’s more maternal feelings:
“What are you going to do with all that baby wanting?” you said.
“Maybe you can get it out when you go and see the newborn twins.”
And now I’m sitting on the plane stewing in my baby wanting.
While turning the lyrics inward to see if she’s built for such a thing as child-rearing …and giving a shout-out to the BBC:
What am I going to do with all this baby wanting?
Do I think I could go through childbirth? I can’t survive my monthly cramps.
And yes, I do cry consistently whenever I’m watching Call the Midwife.
And maybe I desperately want children, or maybe I’m very sentimental.
Ultimately landing on the root cause of all this “Baby Wanting”:
“ [the] shock and wonder and how overwhelming love can be and how I can love a person more than anything in the world
And that’s the feeling there that feeds my baby wanting.”
Musically, Brown channels Glenn Campbell’s “Lineman of the County” on “I Get the Feeling,” but lyrically aligns herself with the Joni Mitchell during her Laurel Canyon era:
I Get the Feeling
I get the feeling you don’t know
I know it’s hard for you to see
I’m going to say it clear and slow
You oughta stick it out with me
If we keep trying like we are
If we keep loving like we do
No reason we should be apart
I don’t have plans for leaving you
I know that leaving’s not a plan
No lover ever plans to leave
I hope that’s not the way I am
But you know that just by knowing me
So if you wake up in the night
From dreams of dogs or women lost
Hey I’ll be sleeping by your side
Some girl who tries to treat you soft
I know my sweet’s not always sweet
I know my kind’s not always good
If there’s a place where we can meet
I mean, I think we can, we should
So if I haven’t made it clear
I’m gonna try and make it true
I gotta say it while you’re here
I’m want to stick it out with you
There is a literary quality to Brown’s lyrics that can’t be overlooked. By eschewing traditional lyrical structure (for the most part), she has injected poetry and storytelling elements that can often get ignored in songwriting. Emily Brown is a little bit of Syd Straw, a little bit Joni Mitchell, a little bit Bobbie Gentry and if you inject some of the more esoteric Jeff Tweedy soundscapes, you can get a rough idea of A Fish of Earth.