An old soul with a fresh voice, Margaret Glaspy’s debut Emotions & Math, which dropped last week on ATO Records, is a spry and effervescent showcase of one of the most promising singer-songwriters to come forth in the independent scene in the past few years.
Starting things off, the album’s title track, “Emotions & Math,” sets up the rest of the album perfectly by introducing Glaspy’s nervy guitar work and wry lyrical presence. With a sound that perfectly captures her live band atmosphere of just guitar, bass, and drums, the clarity of her composition and thoughtful poetry showcases an artist with a talent for reducing things to their very essence without sacrificing any nuances of emotion or melody. “Counting all the days till you’re back / shivering in an ice cold bath / of emotions and math,” she sings, capturing the complicated, shift-in-your-seat discomfort of a relationship slightly askew with only a few well-placed metaphors and riffs.
“You & I,” one of the first singles from the album, builds up into a churning fuck-you climax, bolstered by the intelligent mixing and instrumentation behind Glaspy’s insinuations armed with arpeggiation. “Somebody to Anybody,” the B-side to that single that immediately follows it on the album, takes the opposite tack by letting Glaspy’s vocals and guitar stand alone, telling a story of loneliness and a wish to be invisible. “I keep my head down and both eyes wide / I don’t look up, just side to side,” she pines, justifying her quietude through plainly romantic poetry.
On a slow-burner like the mid-album charmer “Memory Street,” Glaspy’s unmistakable vocals take center stage, with her voice twisting into bright and brilliant shapes reminiscent at times of Joanna Newsom’s idiosyncratic treble or Joni Mitchell’s plainspoken wistfulness. Swirls of minimal effects in the background highlight but do not dare disturb the clear twang of Glaspy’s pale yellow Telecaster, which pairs with her voice like a fine wine. Blues-inflected riffs bring an irresistible vibe of knowledgeable Americana to Glaspy’s indie-rock opus, which doesn’t ever attempt to define itself by genre and instead mainly concerns itself with the expression of true emotion and musicality.
Most of the songs on Emotions & Math run under three minutes long, which is surprising given the amount of narrative packed into its slight bones. Grounded and wise, Margaret Glaspy’s debut record is mature and endlessly listenable, the result of years spent honing her craft of spinning life’s ups and downs into verses and choruses. Unflashy yet instantly attention-grabbing, Emotions & Math is one of this year’s most impressive albums yet.