by Rob Mellinger
Gemma’s debut, As Ever, is a surefooted step out the door for collaborators Felicia Douglass and Erik Gundel. Douglass is one of three vocalists in Brooklyn mainstays Ava Luna, whereas Gundel is a bit more enigmatic, quietly releasing art-damaged singer-songwriter-y experiments (not far removed from the sensibilities of Jim O’Rourke or Jon Brion) over the course of his career. It’s impossible to truly tell where the dividing line between the two songwriters’ contributions is, which signals a true collaborative effort.
As Ever allows Douglass to shine as a vocalist and a songwriter. Unfettered by her Ava Luna cohorts -- the manic soul of Carlos Hernandez and the smoky cool of Becca Kaufman -- Douglass’ liquid pop-melodies take front-and-center. The first track, “Lessons,” opens a rabbit hole of swirling synths beneath the listener, oriented only by Douglass’ plaintive keys, before crystallizing into a comfortable R&B groove. Lyrically, the record is a fuzzy, impressionistic painting (although -- not without a sense of humor, as displayed in the interlude “With Mayo”), abandoning artistic intent, allowing the listener to attach whatever meaning feels appropriate.
Soon after the standout title track, we see a more vulnerable side in the tremulous, skittering of tracks like “Waking in the Fluff” and “Borrowed.” The album plays with this dichotomy throughout. Douglass’ smooth vocals and deft choice of sonic texture carry the listener through the levity of a carefree day spent exploring sunny sidewalks, to the gentle anxieties of late night bedroom introspection, and back again. This is best exemplified in “Medal,” whose nervous garage-funk quietly builds and eventually transforms into a celebratory space disco. As Ever is a multifaceted work -- it reaches, stretches, challenges, it’s deep enough for solitary headphone exploration, but in equal measures it's also smooth, comfortable, and catchy. Ultimately, it’s a crowd pleaser. Even your friends in marketing will dig this one.