With everyone from Rihanna to Britney Spears now incorporating wobble basslines and syncopated beats into their polished pop sound, the dubstep scene has well and truly gone mainstream. Attempting to take it right back into the underground comes the self-titled debut album from Emika, a Czech born, U.K.-raised, and now Berlin-based former sound engineer, whose tension-filled soundscapes are unlikely to be jostling with recent chart-toppers Nero and DJ Fresh for the number one spot. Aptly self-described as a "beautiful nightmare," its fusion of ethereal melodies and hushed harmonies with avant-garde electronica and twitchy rhythms is indeed as enchanting as it is unsettling. None more so than on the sinister "FM Attention," whose elasticated synths, eerie industrial noises, and echo-laden banshee vocals seem destined to be played over the finale of a particularly trippy horror movie. This sense of disorientation is a recurring theme throughout the album's 12 tracks, ensuring that you're never quite sure where Emika is going to go next. "3 Hours" beings with some hypnotic, train-track percussion before merging with an array of twisted techno bleeps, sub-woofer basslines, and a surprising Lady Gaga-turns-aloof robotic chorus; the jerky, claustrophobic dub of "Double Edge," and glacial cinematic trip-hop of "Professional Loving" hark back to Emika's classically trained beginnings with their opening piano intros/outros (something also alluded to on the closing Beethoven-inspired instrumental "Credit Theme"), while the skittering muted beats, indecipherable wailings, and ambient effects of the melancholic "The Long Goodbye" explain why Thom Yorke is such a big fan. There are a few relatively less challenging moments, such as the seductive R&B-tinged dub-pop of "Drop the Other" and the pulsing beats and chiming synths of "Come Catch Me," but without question, this is a record designed to be listened to in isolation, preferably through a massive pair of high-quality headphones rather than in the mass communal surroundings of a club. The female James Blake labels are inevitable but rather misleading, as Emika doesn't really sound like anyone else out there, an admirable feat which should appeal to those dismayed by dubstep's recent commercial takeover.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien