Artist – Hello Emerson
Album / Label – How To Cook Everything / Anyway Records/K&F Records
Rating – 7 / 10
Hello Emerson have come a long way in the two and a half years since their debut LP Above The Floorboards was released. The band was scooped up by German label K&F Records, featured in countless publications and gained a massive following across the globe. In fact, the band spent a month overseas in 2018 and is playing a handful of dates on the European continent to promote their newest record, How to Cook Everything (release date: January 24, 2020)
The band’s namesake, Sam Emerson Bodary explains the record’s title, “The record is named after my favorite cookbook, Mark Bittman’s ‘How to Cook Everything.’ Over the past five years, I’ve been learning to cook a bit better. It’s been a reminder that growth and progress are inelegant, sometimes leaving us with small burns or inedible meals. But, if we can move through those missteps, we can improve day-to-day life in small ways for ourselves and others.”
Interestingly, the band shared a live video on social media several months ago, where singer Bodary was in a kitchen, starting the oven and heating up a kettle. The video was entirely unremarkable and had absolutely no dialogue, but went on for several minutes before ending abruptly. It was enough to reignite the conversation about the band, as I both saw and heard countless people online and in cafés wondering what Hello Emerson’s next move would be.
The core members of the group remain the same – Bodary, Jack Doran, and Daniel Seibert. The list of collaborators for this record is equally massive. You’ll remember that their Columbus release show featured a rotating ensemble of 13 different people taking the stage at Rumba Café. There are plenty of familiar faces and voices, but there are also some new elements that will bring even more attention to the Emerson revolution.
First up is The Last Dinner, which immediately sets a somber tone as Bodary sings “we’re picking out my outfit, so we look good when we end it.” Those day-to-day life improvements can be felt in Bodary’s voice here. He’s a few years older, a little more seasoned, and ready to tackle just about any topic that comes to his mind. The song seems to touch on the loss of love, and is a gentle beginning to remind you of the Hello Emerson you knew once before.
Edges and Corners feels more like an actual love song, with a driving snare and metronome click pushing it forward along with Doran’s piano. You can hear the hum of a clarinet and the twinkle of a mandolin as the song goes forward. The lyrics seem to be introspective and highly cerebral… “I bought a real alarm clock so you know, I want you more than I want my phone” made me chuckle, in a good way.
Dancing in the Kitchen slows things down a little but seems to speak again of love as the instruments build around Bodary’s voice. I can just imagine a group of dancers on a ballroom floor, swaying rhythmically to the jazzier feel. You can’t help but walk away feeling good after listening to the line “Each night, she’d pour out a half-glass of wine for dancing in the kitchen. And she glides, wool socks on the laminate tile – she’s dancing in the kitchen.”
Quite unexpectedly, there’s an explosion of horns and a dramatic tempo shift on We Lost. It certainly caught me off guard when a host of voices belted out “Goddamn blood bath!” on this one. It’s a wild song that has to be appreciated for itself before you can truly capture what it means to the record. It’s a tough one to stomach after the acoustic guitars and soft strings.
Sourdough Ball is just over two minutes, and again attaches itself to the “cook everything” mantra of the record, while seeming to tell about raising a child. It sounds like singer Erin Mason is back, providing the perfect harmony that only she can provide to Bodary.
Am I the Midwest? was the first single released for the record, and features a string quartet, the jangle of a banjo, and a familiar pedal steel again provided by Corbin Pratt on this record. The song seems angry, conflicted, and Bodary sounds like he wants a satisfactory answer where there is none.
You can read about the deep background of the track on Emerson’s blog. The band was in Germany playing in a city where a massive protest was happening, and they were interviewed later about Donald Trump, and other happenings back in the United States. It seems that over there, the word Ohio is synonymous with many of the bad things happening here.
The album’s political arc continues on Another War, slowing things down and daring you to listen to what Bodary is actually saying. “They only shot down one or two – before they got to me and you…” as well as “…and they only locked up three or four – cause they were walking round the store, of course that’s legitimate force”. I can feel the comparisons to people like Sufjan Stevens on this song more than any other on the record, and it seems that Bodary is talking equally about things happening across the ocean as well as at home.
Kyle Kerley is about a friend of Bodary’s, of whom he mentioned in the “thank you” section for the band’s previous record as an arranger. The horns soar on this song, and it almost has a poppy feel to it that could definitely be found somewhere like local radio mainstays CD102.5. Bodary sings about Kerley’s anxiety about a move to New York “I think you’ll be just fine – if you breathe and take your time” and laments about how he will miss his friend while he is away.
May 2018 tells of the singer’s own time away from home in an autobiographic state. The track again features small sounds that you might not notice on the first listen; pedal steel, keys, and a horn or two. The lyrics almost sound like they’re calling back to the events that happened after The Last Dinner. There are other concepts that seem to tie together on the entirety of the record, but those two songs feel like an A and B-side to each other for me.
Lastly, we have 16B, a tale told from an outsider perspective about a woman on a plane, and the people she meets in that small fuselage. The album ends with a choir of 30 Columbus voices, the “Emersingers”, singing “There’s a first time for everything” along with Bodary and Mason. The emotional crescendo gives listeners the ability to release whatever they may have felt building within them throughout the record, and is probably a song the band would use to close out a live set for that catharsis as well.
It’s a very personal record, with a lot of introspective emotion. As I stated previously, it seems that for the most part, the songs on the record tie together with each other. I’m not sure if Bodary had a specific idea in mind while he wrote these songs, but he definitely pulled a lot of himself out to make this record. At times it seems to dance around itself and catch repetition, but overall it’s a solid sophomore effort that should firmly entrench the band in Columbus lore.
The group is currently overseas promoting the release of How to Cook Everything and will be playing 15 shows in the next 16 days, before heading back to the United States.
Their hometown release show will be at Ace of Cups this year, and will again feature an amazing bevy of talent. The event page for the show promises a four-piece horn section, a string quartet, synthesizers and more. Again this year, ticket sales will benefit CRIS, Community Refugee and Immigration Services.
- The Last Dinner
- Edges and Corners
- Dancing in the Kitchen
- We Lost
- Sourdough Ball
- Am I the Midwest?
- Another War
- Kyle Kerley
- May 2018
- Seat 16B
Hello Emerson – Am I The Midwest?