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Jonathan Emile’s “Moses”

Stylistic hybrids were everywhere we looked in 2019, and Jonathan Emile’s “Moses” is probably one of the more interesting that I heard in the last month or so. Mixing elements of pop, folk and mild R&B into its melodies, “Moses” is a melting pot of tonality that demands a lot out of its singer but rewards audiences with a tearfully passionate performance that speaks for itself (even without seeing its poignant music video). Emile’s biggest claim to fame is currently his 2015 collaboration with hip-hop megastar Kendrick Lamar, “Heaven Help Dem,” but in this song, he shows us a side of himself that is perhaps even more accessible to listeners at large.

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The centerpiece harmony in “Moses” is a little rough and tumble, but I think that Emile designed it to be. As he ascends the melody in the chorus, he starts to stumble, making us feel the pressurized tension in the strings more than we ever would have otherwise. When he hits the fever pitch in the hook, he lets go of everything, allowing for the catharsis to wash over us like a bucket of cool water in the midst of a hot summer’s day. It’s all very deliberately structured, and that’s evident even in a cursory examination of the track.

I think that the video and the single were really well-produced, but speaking to the video exclusively, it’s almost a little indulgently varnished for what I was initially expecting to find after listening to “Moses” as a standalone song. Emile makes the video feel so theatrical and retrospective, and though I’ve only watched it a couple of times, four at most, I’ve yet to pick up on the same aesthetical vibe twice. This is an extremely multi-interpretive piece, and whether that’s a good or a bad thing will be up to his most loyal of fans to judge.

Everything in “Moses” is built around Emile’s lead vocal, and while some of my peers in music journalism would see this as being a defect of simplicity in singer/songwriter tracks, I couldn’t disagree with their viewpoint much more than I do. I don’t want to hear this singer weighed down with any extras in his music, and were “Moses” outfitted with as much as a second string part, I feel like it probably wouldn’t have landed as well, with me at least, as it does every time I put it on my stereo.

This single and its music video might not change the world, but they’re both quality content for indie buffs to analyze this January at any rate. Jonathan Emile isn’t sounding like a supporting player in “Moses” – to me, he seems ready to take on the next chapter of his career with an open mind and an open heart, and I’m confident that experimenting with his sound as much as he is in this release will lead to bigger and better things in due time. He’s got all the right pieces here; now it’s just a matter of properly assembling them for the general public.

John McCall

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