Val Emmich - Little Daggers
Record Label: None
Release Date: May 27, 2008
You may remember Val Emmich from such television comedies as 30 Rock and Ugly Betty. You may have even seen him in an independent movie. But forget all that. Acting aside, Emmich knows how to write a tune. Sure, you could call his album Little Daggers “pop rock,” but its cotton candy edges hide a surprisingly bitter taste.
Things start off happy enough with Emmich spouting off “doo doo doo doo doo” at the album’s introduction. The first two tracks are fun and inoffensive, if not somewhat forgettable. But the mood of Little Daggers starts to slip into melancholy before too long. “Too Far” details a fight that sounds uncomfortably personal: “Though my shots were in self-defense, / I’m a monster nonetheless. / Yeah I took it too far. / I took it too far.”
But even when he’s feeling down, Emmich doesn’t let the music fall to sadness with him. This isn’t a broody sound (à la The National). “We Still Bleed” deals with the self-destruction of a relationship, but that doesn’t stop upbeat whistling from bridging the song. These contradictions bring a nice structure to the album. While the first two tracks sound optimistic, the final two sink closer to desperation.
It took many listens for me to realize this, but the album plays out like a doomed relationship. The lows outweigh the highs as Little Daggers comes to a close, and “Catalyst” ends it on an interesting note. It seems as if the relationship at the heart of the album has finally imploded, leaving Emmich with one respite: “Call up Caitlyn to kill the calm. / She comes quick, I’m covered in cologne. / Cue up Cat Stevens and Karen O. / Climb on the couch, concede control.” I don’t know who Caitlyn is, but I do know that one way to try and forget someone is to sleep with anyone. “Catalyst” is the finest song on the album. Emmich sounds understandably sullen as he attempts to move on: “It’s hard to celebrate / Sobriety, / Oh, but I’ll try.”
Finding success as a singer-songwriter is hardly ever easy. But with Little Daggers Emmich distinguishes himself. While many songwriters are content to write bitter love songs that point the finger squarely at an ex-lover, Emmich knows how to accept responsibility: “Baby, you’ve got no reason to leave, / But it’s not enough to stay. / No, baby, I can’t believe that we let it get this way.” That’s the kind of singer-songwriter I can back.