By Emmy the Great
April/月音 is the fourth studio album by Emmy the Great, (Emma-Lee Moss’ artistic name), released October 9, 2020. She wrote and recorded it in 2018 in Hong Kong, before the anti-Extradition Law protests in June 2019, and before the pandemic struck in 2020. However, this album has become an unyielding beacon of light in dark times. Its empathetic lyrics and warm melodies carry a feeling of hope, building on themes of spring, renewal, identity, simplicity, and love—Moss presents an album about things falling into place. April/月音 is a precious call to take notice, to understand the implicit meaning in our transient surroundings, and most importantly, in the connections between people.
The importance of the collective for the construction of identity is constantly being emphasized through the act of storytelling, especially in songs like “Chang-E.” “You once told me about the moon / And the first men to walk on her,” Moss sings, as she herself tells us the story of the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival. The climbing, hopeful chords of the song, underlined by a clicking sound as she walks, “A thousand steps onto the temple,” open at the chorus to leave way to a minimal arrangement of brass, drums, and strings, which feels tenuous and comforting, moon-bathed. “Okinawa/Ubud” reveals, in soft whispers and melodic tilts, the fact that, “Our parents dreamed of escape / Now all their dreams are ours,” underlining this sense of interconnectedness. Moss builds an atmosphere of reverence, confiding in us the stories that she has been given.
The mixture of Cantopop instrumentals and patterns with warm folk rhythms, as well as the constant blending of English and Cantonese lyrics, brings up simultaneously themes of uprootedness and of communality, as announced by the duality of the songs and album’s titles. April/月音 delves into Moss’ identities, which are, as she sings in “Dandelions/Liminal,” “Scattered all over the place.” This song is a beautiful ode to resilience, and it embraces precisely the changing nature of modern life in general and of the last years of Hong Kong history in particular, as things head up to chaos. However, life continues to happen: “And in our silent times we wonder / The end is coming, is it soon? / But then we dance a little more / They’re playing music in the store / Can you believe it’s almost June?” The narrator is warm as a friend, recognizing the listener’s fear of uncertainty, and offering the advice of adaptability, of gratitude, of leniency: “Don’t give me anything except your time.”
This last idea, the narrator as a friend, is one of the most distinctive messages that Moss’ lyrics deliver: love is found in every small action done and every thought had for the other person. The major chords of “Chang-E” and the lyrics, “While I’m gone look after yourself / I don't want to hear reports that you are lonely,” accompany the listener, who feels seen and cared for. Moss recognizes the potential of reconnecting in “Dandelions/Liminal:” “A little note / to say you live in town.” She also understands the importance of establishing boundaries with the past, as in “Heart Sutra,” a song about determination and self-love. “And I'm gonna walk out of here / All open and clear / I'm not gonna keep on coming back.”
It is in “Writer” in which themes of connection, hope, identity, and love are best intertwined. “Writer” is a most accomplished song in terms of lyricism and melody, an act of storytelling in and of itself, in which the narrator evaluates her past, present, and potential future. It succeeds in truly encapsulating the mood of the record: layered, building upstream, honest in its acknowledgement of pain and optimistic about a shared future. The lyrics, “But I’m a writer now and everything is sunny,” sung at the height of the song, carried by supporting vocals and power chords, transmit an ecstatic joy that bleeds through the whole album. The love discussed in “Writer” and all of April/月音 is a heightened sense of love that overcomes hardships and never disappears, inhabiting memories, as well as one that lies in the future’s potential for new connections: “Well here’s something that you could say / Why don’t you start with your name?”
April/月音 centers itself around the importance of community, of having someone and something to love, and through its narrative voice the album offers to be that source of connection for us, as begged in “Mary:” “Oh Mary, would you let me love you?” And we let her love us for a little while; we let the album reveal our own potential for love. This record embodies the simplicity and inherent importance of life happening. It’s a chant for community, permission for feeling bereft, and a reassurance: we have ourselves; we have each other; we have a home; life will go on.
— Laura García
Complutense University of Madrid, Spain