Having released the breakup-fueled Virtue (and a Christmas album and an EP) in the period since her 2009 debut, First Love, Emmy the Great returns with a nod to the latter album's heart health in Second Love. Partly inspired by newfound romance and change -- Emmy's Emma-Lee Moss moved frequently, eventually settling in New York City during the record's writing and recording stage -- it was produced by Ludwig Göransson (Childish Gambino, HAIM) and Dave McCracken (Natalie Imbruglia, Beyoncé), and features a number of guest musicians, including Tom Fleming of Wild Beasts and Fyfe Dangerfield of Guillemots. The collaborative result retains the singer/songwriter's amiable style while reaching into more expansive, especially mechanical sounds, often reflecting lyrics that address contemporary tech and culture in addition to matters of the heart. "Hyperlink," for example, mixes rhythmic guitar with chirping electronic effects, chiming synths, and both highly processed and natural-sounding backing vocals as she contemplates love at a café "where the drinks cost more than music/All those people tapping keys where once they would read magazines." Elsewhere, "Phoenixes" adds vocoder-type effects to backing vocals as she refers to screen grabs and electronic devices while reminiscing about the Phoenix family of film actors at a time when River was still alive and Joaquin went by Leaf ("Leaf, he changes colors, that's for sure"). More retro-y fare, like the early-'60s-flavored "Shadowlawns" and the breezy, soft rock melody of "Algorithm," are also in play and still get contemporary production touches. Admirers of her prior work needn't fret; despite Second Love's more shimmering accompaniment, the centerpiece of each song remains the vocal line and Moss' distinctive, sometimes quaintly awkward placement of syllables and rhythm within melody. Dedicated fans will want to note that two of the tracks -- "Swimming Pool" and "Social Halo" -- were taken from her 2015 EP S, though the ten additional tracks more than make up for any duplication.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson