Throughout the 43 minutes of Pillowfight’s self-titled debut LP, vocalist/lyricist/violinist Emily Wells constructs verses that challenge Taylor Swift for the accolade of most innocent pop songstress. Backed by Dan the Automator’s collection of subtle ivory runs, muffled trumpet trills, and abbreviated string arrangements, Wells recounts the frustrations of a tumultuous relationship on “Sleeping Dogs”: “I can’t seem to give up, please don’t say goodbye / I’ll call you up and say, ‘I’ve been thinkin’ bout you baby and I’m back to stay’ / You were never just a memory, I knew we’d meet again / Thank you for forgiveness, thanks for giving in.” Fortunately for Swift, the darker side of Well’s past relationships, most vividly recalled on album opener “Used to Think”, eliminate her from such a prize.
As he did with his work with Damon Albarn on Gorillaz, Dan the Automator combed through his encyclopedic knowledge of recorded music, and professionally curated contact list, to highlight the experimental endeavors of multi-instrumentalist Wells. On the confessional ”Redemption”, Lateef the Truthspeaker adds his baritone vocals to the hook of the Massive Attack-recalling track. The trip-hop aesthetic prevails on the ambient synth waves of “Rain”, which features a short “found-sound” break courtesy of turntable mastermind Kid Koala. The duo of Kid Koala and Lateef resurface on the aptly titled “Get Down”. In the words of Lateef: “We came to make this place bounce.”
Fourteen years Wells’s senior, Dan the Automator has stepped up as a mentor for her ongoing unification of classical music with hip-hop. Dan may have multiple hits credited to his production, but no ego avails on Pillowfight, as he chooses instead to tone down his own propensity for sample-oddities to focus on tones of Wells’ voice and visceral lyrical expressions. This is certainly a project that deserves further attention from each artist.
Essential Tracks: “Get Down”, “Sleeping Dogs”