Let's Talk About The Weather by Emily MagpieRelease date: April 3, 2020
Bristol-based Emily Magpie has been making music for several years now, releasing a series of EPs that have seen her feted by BBC Introducing and by the BBC Radio 6. This, however, is Magpie’s first full-length album. Let’s Talk About The Weather deftly showcases just how versatile her deceptively simple approach to arrangement can be. As with her live performances, this is essentially a one-woman show: programmed beats and synthesiser accompanied by Magpie’s powerful voice and ukulele. Yet it manages to be surprisingly cinematic; whilst her vocals and her ukulele are the focus, the kaleidoscopic synth work that underpins everything is beautifully effective. The soundscaping is never intrusive, but it never becomes irrelevant background muzak either. Magpie clearly has a great ear for atmosphere.
The album is aptly named: it has long been a cliché that we British are obsessed with the weather, and that when our famed reserve takes hold, we take refuge in small talk about the weather to ease – or avoid – those difficult conversations, those troublesome emotions. Emotionally guarded, we hide behind a topic on which we can be sure everyone holds an opinion. Let’s Talk About The Weather is therefore an effective title on several levels. It evidences our hesitancy to be intimate with each other, and at the same time acknowledges that despite our fascination with the weather, there’s a weather-related conversation that we collectively seem reluctant to truly engage in: that of climate change.
Magpie uses these ideas to explore relationships: our relationships with each other, and also with the planet that we’re living on. Climate change, of course, is still a hot potato for many, despite ever-accumulating evidence that man-made climate change is a fact of our everyday lives. There is always a tendency to worry that when artists bring Big Issues to our attention that they will be so consumed in making a point that they will forget to pack the art to back it up. Happily – despite opening with an instrumental entitled ‘Greta’ and featuring a sampled Greta Thunberg, Let’s Talk About The Weather makes no such fatal errors.
Thunberg’s opening words, describing how people are so much more powerful when they unite behind an idea, establishes one of Magpie’s central themes, that we are better people for forming relationships with each other than we would be alone. This is true both of our friendships and romantic relationships, and of the wider bonds we form to address larger issues such as climate change.
Before we truly understand the importance of our interactions, we have to be aware of what we face. ‘All Is Silence’ is the first of two tracks that show us that there are immense challenges – storms, actual and metaphorical, that we must weather – ahead. With its forbidding opening, and descriptions of chaotic scenes across the globe, the song reminds us of the redeeming – and transformational – power of love and solidarity. Its insistent ticking percussion loops & ukulele drive the song along, Magpie posing the all-important question at the end: “Will we be left behind?” ‘Rain’s Coming’ carries a similar forbidding warning, and is perhaps the darkest track on the record. With its insistently ticking percussion – somewhat like a clock’s relentless progress – a ghostly disembodied choir, and apocalyptic imagery, the track gives us a sense that time is running out. In the face of the global problems caused by climate change, however, there is hope and solace to be found in our relationships; as Magpie’s protagonist proclaims, “I wouldn’t change anything“.
For all these dire premonitions, however, Magpie’s message is firmly rooted in solidarity and a sense of hope. ‘Lifting The Veil’ zooms out from the Earth, showing us the field of stars that paint the “deep purple velvet” of space. This romantic imagery serves as a reminder that there’s a whole universe out there waiting for us to explore, if we don’t destroy ourselves first. “The stars are laid out for you“, sings Magpie to both timid lovers and to mankind as a whole. ‘Sound Of Reillanne’ returns firmly to Earth, name checking the titular region of Provence in south-eastern France. The track is preoccupied with the beauty of nature. It rattles along like a train on its metronomic bed of ticking hip-hop beats whilst painting an alluring picture of the natural world and how deeply we are a part of it, no matter what we may sometimes pretend. Bird-like effects flit between the speakers, and Magpie paints a vividly sensual picture of the beauty of the natural world. It’s simultaneously a celebration of nature, and a warning of what we stand to lose.
‘Make The Trade’ is a more forthright call to arms. Magpie tells us that “a light has gone out” and implores us to “make the trade“. The track is shot through with ghostly wailing and close-up gasps, and the inference is clear: if we don’t make the trade, we will suffer the consequences. The Earth is already suffocating, unable to support the kind of lives we are currently living.
Having asked for help, Magpie retreats to the personal, reminding us that what may seem like a mammoth task is more easily accomplished together. We are, figuratively, all in the same boat. ‘My Universe Has Grown’ makes beautiful use of Magpie’s multi-tracked vocals, evoking a shimmering choir floating in space. It’s a song of comfort: “you’re not alone“, Magpie reminds us. It’s an exploration of the solace relationships provide, and the extended set of people that relationships bring with them: each relationship bringing together two families, two groups of friends, and so on. It also serves as a reminder that a global consciousness of mankind’s problems forge us into a larger, united force, one that can combine to accomplish change where necessary. The most hopeful song on the album, this is perhaps the album’s answer to the earlier ‘Rain’s Coming’.
‘Things I Forgot’ turns view inward, Magpie using her own experience to talk about how the passage of time and our relationships with each other and with the Earth can change people, not always for the better. “I miss my naivete, I miss my open heart“, Magpie laments. “I miss all the things which tore us apart.” Yet with experience comes peace, and acceptance. The sparse arrangement brings to mind singer/songwriters such as Suzanne Vega, or perhaps more acutely, Beth Orton – writers who are similarly gifted at examining the currents of our relationships. By the time the closing ‘Changing Winds’ ends, the spell Magpie has cast remains potent. The music slowly drops away, leaving just Magpie’s voice floating on the breeze, followed by rustling, barely-there electronics, as if the album has slowly unspooled and floated away into the ether – a beautiful dream that lingers at the fringes of memory, tantalisingly just out of recall.
Let’s Talk About The Weather is a remarkably assured and concise debut. It is to Magpie’s credit that her seemingly limited palette is anything but, and is used skillfully to paint on a much broader canvas than might at first be imagined. As with so many of the best records, she uses a very simple idea to explore much deeper ones – this album asks the big questions, but remembers to ask the small ones too. The unaffected nature of her words, the highly creative way she uses her voice, and the deceptively complex but uncluttered sound worlds she creates all combine to make an affecting and deeply involving – even haunting – record. An unexpected, and unalloyed, joy.