Emily Keener
I Do Not Have To Be Good


3.7
great

Review

by BlushfulHippocrene STAFF
May 23rd, 2020 | 37 replies


Release Date: 05/22/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Comforting in its patient, often plodding sense of pace, the warmth of its live production and the soft beauty in Keener’s voice. But also deeply doubtful of the world it’s born into.

What is, at first blush, Keener’s greatest weakness—that is, an apparent lack of character—is, at second and third and fourth…, the young singer-songwriter’s greatest asset. For far from lacking in character, I Do Not Have to be Good is, in reality, diverse in sound and impressive in scope. Yes, ‘Do You Love Me Lately?’ could easily have crept its way onto Stranger in the Alps. And sure, Keener’s songs—the patience with which they unfold—call to mind Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker. But that Keener is able to elicit comparisons to both these artists at once and at all—both accomplished in their own right, though otherwise distinct in sound and style—and in a manner so poignantly and unabashedly personal, points not to a lack of character, but rather an immense space for growth, an envious potential.

A potential that is, for the most part, met on Good. Like Bridgers, and like Lenker, Keener builds upon sparse, slow-moving compositions songs that feel lived-in and thoughtful.

Conjuring images of wistful winds, soft susurrations. Dancing through abandoned houses or fields. Whatever else naturalistic image best fits.

Indeed, Good feels freeing: tethered to quiet folk arrangements built around feelings of religious and societal doubts; overcoming these with simple mantras and moving, though subtle musical adventures. On opener ‘Nap’, for instance, Keener croons: “I would take a nap with you / Over anything that God could do”, to the tune of an effects-laden electric guitar that floats in and out of the song’s surface, atop scattered and distant drum pulses. I thought the sounds muddled at first, uneven; how the song unfolds, however, into a lethargic, albeit soothing lullaby makes these small sonic intricacies (scattered throughout the album) all the more impressive. The song takes a subdued approach to the insurmountability of its themes, both sonically and lyrically. Keener toys with simple answers to complex questions; her band deliver with menace a quiet performance; and the result is, indeed, freeing. Emotions burns beneath much of ‘Nap’—indeed, much of Good—though do so with a charming, smile-inducing sense of freedom and who cares.

‘Mary, I Love Her’ dedicates itself to the poet Mary Oliver, from whose poem ‘Wild Geese’ Good’s title is derived, and who wrote:
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
And it’s with this sense of compassion that Keener approaches much of the album’s themes, along with the music itself. I say freeing because, in spite of its simplicity, Good is emotionally and sonically adventurous; there’s little by way of what most listeners would call experimentation, but there’s a willingness to try things that colours Keener’s sparse songwriting interesting colours. ‘Elbow’, for example, is punctuated by piano flurries, organ stabs, and strange, hypnotic whispers.

Not altogether unsurprising that nowhere on Keener’s label profile is there mention of the artist’s top-12 stint on NBC’s endlessly shallow (not in spite, but because, of its gimmicky premise) The Voice, on which she covered admirably the likes of Jeff Buckley and Joni Mitchell. Whether to undermine and minimise the influence of the show on Keener’s career— she is, it is true, a much older and far more accomplished artist now—or to acknowledge it as unbecoming of the singer-songwriter’s broader talents, it’s a striking exclusion. Striking, but not unsurprising: for beyond any equally shallow critique of the reality TV format, I think it highlights the relevance of I Do Not Have to be Good’s attempt to be—success in being— original.

Not, again, because Keener isn’t indebted to a number of artists and movements; I Do Not Have to be Good fits very much into the American folk and indie-folk traditions, old and new. Yet, despite this, the young singer-songwriter is able to carve her own niche within these genre(s), jumping from one sound to the next without ever abandoning the lyrical and musical charm that is all her own. What is, at first blush, Keener’s greatest weakness—that is, an unassuming character—is, at second and third and fourth…, the young singer-songwriter’s greatest asset, hinting at, in addition to what hides beneath the surface on the artist's already excellent sophomore album, a vast potentiality beyond.




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user ratings (19)
3.6
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
May 23rd 2020


3466 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Forgive the messiness of the review. This is a fantastic, unassuming record.

Download/stream here: https://emilykeener.bandcamp.com/album/i-do-not-have-to-be-good

Mary Oliver's 'Wild Geese': http://www.phys.unm.edu/~tw/fas/yits/archive/oliver_wildgeese.html

Slex
May 23rd 2020


10405 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Damn this sounds right up my alley

Digging: Gulfer - Gulfer

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 23rd 2020


36062 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I usually check out releases you review so consider me aboard the train as well. Nice write up Blush.

Digging: Bendrix Littleton - Deep Dark South

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
May 24th 2020


3466 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

I hope you guys enjoy it, it's grown on me a lot in the past month. Favourite tracks are I Don't Know Anything and Mary, I Lover Her if you want a little taster.

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 24th 2020


36062 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

She's very close to something here. It's a little too minimal for its own good. Not every song would need a flourish, but just something like the pianos in 'Elbow' that adds a beautiful accent to her already gorgeous voice. More stuff like that would push this over the top for me, but at the same time it feels like a huge grower (which you've already confirmed). So we'll see, maybe in time I'll find that her subtlety is enough. But on first impression, she strikes me as incredibly promising and in need of a spark.

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
May 27th 2020


3466 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

I agree. From what I've heard, this is her most fleshed out project in that regard; I think she's a very talented songwriter, but I hope she does go even more down that route. She's quite young, so yes, a lot of promise.

AsleepInTheBack
Contributing Reviewer
May 27th 2020


6650 Comments


I will never not love your writing, blush < 3

the last sentence may be missing a full stop if I'm not being dumb

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
May 27th 2020


3466 Comments

Album Rating: 3.7

Will never not love you Ben. Thanks for the catch, dunno how I could miss that. :')

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 27th 2020


36062 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I love the back half of this. From 'Boats' onward is pure gold. Might have to bump this already, there's something really inviting about this record's calm.

Project
May 27th 2020


4441 Comments


It's super relaxing and inviting, but I can't help shake the feeling this has all the atmosphere of Stranger in the Alps but a fraction of the songwriting chops and dynamicism

then again I guess it's not really trying to be dynamic

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 27th 2020


36062 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Ok yeah I'm bumping this up to a 4. Love her voice and the subtleties. Elbow is one of my favorite songs of 2020 so far.

Sunnyvale
May 27th 2020


1798 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is beautiful so far

HBFS
May 28th 2020


1451 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Static is gorgeous, I love this!

Digging: Get Dead - Dancing with the Curse

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
May 29th 2020


20463 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Blush 3.5 = Neek 4.5

I must check c:

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 29th 2020


36062 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This has you written all over it neek

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
May 29th 2020


20463 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Hell yes I'm in love with that album cover too goddamn

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
May 29th 2020


20463 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

this sounds so vast fuck

HBFS
May 30th 2020


1451 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

mary, i love her is my fave on repeated listens. those guitar chords are so gorgeous.



anyone hear vida la vida at 3:03 of nap? haha

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
May 30th 2020


20463 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

oh yeah damn that is a bit similar

NorthernSkylark
May 30th 2020


10428 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

not mindblowing but pretty good nonetheless

Digging: King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King



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