Part of the same mid-'90s Philadelphia psych-pop/space rock scene as Bardo Pond, the Asteroid #4, and Transient Waves, Emma also adds a hint of Joy Division-style darkness to their mellow sound. Basically singer/guitarist Rick Henderson (who also plays keyboards with Eltro, City of Horns, Ashtabula, the Wayward Wind, and others, often under the name Elmer Clayton) with help from bassist Dean McNulty of Chopper, and drummer Ed Farnsworth, Emma has never been a full-time project, but their occasional releases are likely to attract fans of other "Psychedelphia" bands as well as folks fond of Windy & Carl, Amp, or Ghost.
Emma's first release was a six-song demo tape that was originally packaged in a bag of glitter. Four of those songs appeared in the much less annoyingly packaged Blue Girl EP. (In fact, Blue Girl, a pair of 7" singles packaged in thick cardboard with a Japanese-style obi strip, is gorgeously packaged, as are most of Emma's releases.) The first full-length, 1997's Difference Engine #23, was a noisier affair that vaguely recalls the Olivia Tremor Control in spots.
The following move was utterly perplexing. Henderson took two out-takes from the Difference Engine #23 sessions, "The Company Picnic" and "Available," pressed 666 copies of a vinyl single, wrapped them in classified ads from the Philadelphia Inquirer that had been drawn on with a red marker, and mailed each and every copy to randomly chosen local businesses. It might have been a publicity stunt. Conversely, it could have been Henderson's way of saying "Dig me, I'm freaky!" Could have been both.
Henderson followed that dada exercise with Emma's most straightforward and satisfying record, 1998's Garden City 44. Puckishly sequenced as if it were a Days of Future Passed-style concept album based on the concept of an average workday (song titles on the back cover are listed by time of day and place, like "3:45 a.m.: Bedroom" or "2:00 p.m.: Office [Water Cooler]"; the real song titles are located on the other side of the CD tray card), Garden City 44 is actually a strong and varied collection of psych-pop tunes in a number of styles. After that triumph, Henderson turned to his other projects and Emma lapsed.