Whatever your opinion of Bonnaroo 2016’s headlining lineup may be, you would be hard-pressed to find another festival that managed to book a stronger mid-level and breaking artists tier (the last breath of Superfly before Live Nation twisted its heel into Superfly’s throat), at least when considering other festivals of similar ilk. Without getting caught up in the divisive Live Nation booking practices, seeing bands like Whitney, Sunflower Bean, Luke Bell, Sun Club, Hinds, Bully, and Vulfpeck command (and steal) their respective Bonnaroo stages made for many a watershed moment in each band’s career.
While the aforementioned bands were formidable (and even exceptional) in their sets, there was one such set that had a particularly monumental moment, and that was Margaret Glaspy’s Saturday showing on the Who Stage.
For whatever (unfair) reason people want to place Margaret Glaspy’s music into the “folk-rocker” chick channel - as if such an unintelligible blanket statement equates for due diligence – because she’s seemingly unassuming when not on stage or whatever other closed minded pigeon-holed logic might arise. But that’s simply not the case, as exhibited on her debut LP, Emotions and Math, Glaspy’s cerebral songwriting and meditative-yet-managed stage presence place her in a channel that’s wonderfully indeterminate and unfettered, apart from the increasingly tired roots-revival tropism ascribed to any young woman that happens to play guitar.
Emotions and Math is an excellent debut for any artist, but through the lens of Glaspy, it exemplifies her intercourse between personal discourse and a wellspring of feeling and intuition; there are no wax poetic musings to be found on Emotions and Math. The eponymous album opener recalls associative assurance from a former lover of some sort. In a sense, it explores the periodic moments of borderline co-dependency within a relationship. It features feminist idealism while highlighting incongruous feelings of relational dependence.
One of the early points of contention featured in the record is misunderstanding, a common talking point in most indie-music, sure, but Glaspy manages to provide an aggressive and dismissive demeanor on tracks like “Situation” stating “Call me a rebel / Call me a renegade / Whatever fits the mould you’ve made,” while her guitar work bares tonal depth in creating an air confused tension. Admittedly, it's tough to immediately compare Glaspy’s “sound” and spirit to any other established artist – which is something to aspire toward as an artist, in my opinion – though songs like “Somebody to Anybody” and “Memory Street” recall occasional cadences of Cat Power and bellowing labelmates Alabama Shakes' guitar tones. She’s in good company, but it isn’t a total reverential imitation of influences, a practice that seems to be more and more common amongst the “indie” star(let) crowd.
There are tracks like “Pins and Needles” that manage to meld both Glaspy’s blues and rock opining sensibilities with the existential and relational crises of indie-music – “I don’t want to be on pins and needles around you of all people” – simultaneously developing a unique sense of Glaspy-ness. Then you have songs like “Anthony” that feel like a hardened Regina Spektor track (I realize this could be argued as a contradiction in the previous paragraph, but allow me to explain further) – it narrates an absent reciprocation from the aforementioned “Anthony” as Glaspy prays for the admiration and love of Anthony, only to come up short. It’s a theme all too common amongst many a finicky couple – continuing to stay together when feelings and compassion have so obviously run their respective courses. It's almost like Glaspy’s version of Kanye’s Amber Rose call-out on The Life of Pablo – “She said I took the best years of her life.”
Emotions and Math closes with a decidedly brooding tonality that acts as a slight divergence from the light(ish) feel of the rest of the record. “Love Like This” is arguably the strongest track on the record, examining a former romance that was unceremoniously tossed to the wayside, leaving Glaspy left to her own devices, while her guitar work is at its strongest, with a dark tango feel that flirts with positivity, but almost always maintaining a perpetual sense of “Saudade.” Emotions and Math’s closer is the record’s bluesiest track on the record – which seems fitting for a song titled “Black and Blue” – that highlights a slight sense of narrative neuroticism brought about lifelong misconceptions (aka “black is blue”), thus cementing a full-circle moment in Glaspy’s early career – the thought that a seemingly quiet artist could bring about such unabashed and insightful commentary on typical narrative tomes. With a strong full-length debut like Glaspy’s, it will be likely that her presence will quickly shift from the close-mindedness of those expecting a soft-cooing songstress into the proper ascription worthy of Glaspy’s ability.