Absinthe & The Dirty Floors: 'Identify'

Absinthe & The Dirty Floors 300 i i

Jessica Emelia displays the finished project of this year's RPM Challenge, The Damen Stop, allegedly named for a stop on the blue line in Chicago. Jessica Emelia hide caption

itoggle caption Jessica Emelia
Absinthe & The Dirty Floors 300

Jessica Emelia displays the finished project of this year's RPM Challenge, The Damen Stop, allegedly named for a stop on the blue line in Chicago.

Jessica Emelia

Note: This week, Second Stage is featuring artists from the RPM Challenge, 'The Wire' magazine's annual open invitation for musicians to produce an entire album in the shortest month of the year, February. Check out the website to learn about this year's challenge.

Jessica Emelia, an intern at a recording studio in Chicago by day and the driving force behind Absinthe & The Dirty Floors by night, set out to make "fun, poppy, indie rock dance songs" for this year's RPM Challenge. But circumstances in her personal life intervened. "The album sort of took a folky turn at the end, as I was separating from my husband in February, and that's just what came out," reports Emelia. Regardless of her personal hardships, however, Emelia powered through, determined to "get something good out of February," even if the mood of her album was a bit different than she had initially envisioned.

For The Damen Stop, Emelia decided to keep the instrumentation down to between five and seven instruments and to de-emphasize computer effects. But her songs benefit from this stripped-down sound. From a casual throat clearing at the beginning of "Black Ice" to the spontaneous laughing and conversation following "Ode to a Squirrel," elements that often get cut out of songs in the editing process help give The Damon Stop an endearing, home recording quality. Emelia's vocals, which contain much of the world-weary strains of Chan Marshall of Cat Power or Liz Harris of Grouper, convey sense of urgency, abandon, and resignation. The repetition of, "I want to get lost right now" in "Black Ice" is at once heartbreaking and lovely, especially when set to an odd beat and a slightly out-of-tune piano.

Emelia was too busy with work to make an album last February, but The Damen Stop marks her second time participating in the RPM Challenge. While she was satisfied with the end result of her 2007 contribution, "this time," Emelia says, "I think I'm going to be one of those RPMers who goes back and polishes the album after it's turned in." Emelia also anticipates more rock songs in the future in addition to launching a new musical project called Theories of Sea Power. Absinthe & The Dirty Floors is primarily the work of Emelia, but The Damen Stop wouldn't have become what it is today with Matt Harting, who assisted with the recording and engineering processes, and Liz and Loren who provided tech support, advice, and encouragement from San Francisco.

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