Branching out and choosing to diversify a sound rather than working entirely within some prescribed list of safe constituent parts is a risky endeavor, often prone to failure. It’s not because it can’t be done, but because it’s really fucking hard. More often than not it pays to just stick to something as it is. As much as branching out can be those things, it’s also our only path to new knowledge. The truth remains: sonic risks must be taken, you must fail, but if you’re crafty enough eventually you don’t have to. New York R&B duo Gemma, one half Felicia Douglass of Ava Luna and one half producer Erik Gundel, seem to have this idea worked out with the debut of “As Ever”, the title track off their first release.
“As Ever” doesn’t waste any time sounding wholly like one thing. The song starts with an upbeat chord progression, very obviously in the vein of an R&B song, but doesn’t allow that to dictate the entire mood of the tune. It’s the tiny eccentricities that make the song truly unique. About 30 seconds in, there are these illuminated-l.e.d-like arpeggios that would sound right coming out of something that doubles as a robot and a tape deck. Soon after, the spacious arpeggios are replaced by these really quick Zappa-esque runs that help to kind of turn each musical phrase. As the more electronic, trap-flavored percussion kicks in, “As Ever” starts to become an ostensible sort of pop song.
What’s amazing is that in arranging and writing the song as they did, Gemma steers entirely clear of any of the things that give can give poppier sounding R&B a hokey quality. As the bridge hits, notes that sound outside the key of the song gradually nestle and phase into ones that do; all before letting the main progression run its course and play the song out. If “As Ever” had only one strength (which in actuality it has loads of) it would be palatability working in tandem with a willingness to be three dimensional and not give the song away to one sound simply because it’s easier to do.
“As Ever” is streaming below and will be available on Gemma’s debut full length this fall.