There is something for every musical preference included on Steve M. Emenwein’s album The Night Sea Journey. The tem song collection is his most ambitious effort since first emerging seven years ago with his debut, an official soundtrack for Tom Peterson’s short film Moment. It is a testament to his talents that Emenwein, despite an education grounded for the most part in audio production and technology, has discovered his true calling as a songwriter and performing artist; the clarion call of his muse proved impossible to ignore. He now resides in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area and, working under the name Aquarius, weaves a number of musical threads into the fabric of The Night Sea Journey that guarantees it will appeal to a wide cross section of listeners.
The opener “Atonement” serves listeners with notice that The Night Sea Journey is a substantive artistic statement rather than disposable aural entertainment. Light percussion and gossamer thin waves of synthesizers fuel the musical arrangement while Aquarius varies his vocal delivery between rhythmic hip hop and outright singing aching with a lot of soul. He has considerable verbal talents without ever risking losing listeners along the way and bobs and weaves through the hip hop passages like a relaxed boxer in complete command. The songs included on this release are quite vulnerable, but he dispatches them with confidence.
“(Show Me) What Your Love Can Do” is one of the most affecting performances on the album. The clear narrative of the lyrics lays out the story far better than this review can hope to describe it and the increasing emotional intensity in his vocals during the verses is a moving listening experience. Once again Aquarius mixes his obvious affinity for hip hop with a R&B/soul styled vocal for the song’s chorus and mellow tilt of the track’s arrangement contrasts well with the heated autobiographical nature of the material.
The languid musical mood continues with the cut “Call You Home”, but Aquarius dispenses with the strong synth presence of earlier tracks in favor of elegant piano. The instrument has a large role in the beginning and between verses, but Aquarius reins his playing in during vocal passages while still providing ample musical support. Acoustic guitar makes memorable contributions to the album’s fifth track “I Am Your Queen” and hard-hitting percussion punctuates its lyrical tone. It is likewise notable for being the only song on the album with musical contributions from someone else besides Aquarius.
“Phoenix” is another songwriting and vocal high point on the album. It begins in spartan fashion with effects laden piano counterpointing an impassioned Aquarius vocal. The song soon segues into a fuller arrangement and its melodic strengths provide one of the album’s best platforms for Aquarius’ vocal mix of hip hop and fragile emotion. The finale “What I’m Made For” ends The Night Sea Journey on an appropriate note with an emphatic song about identity that seems to clear the decks for Aquarius’ future. This is an album constructed with an ear turned towards posterity and it wouldn’t work as well as it does if Aquarius didn’t have the talent to pull it off.
Mindy McCall, edited by Michael Rand
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