Toronto Saxophonist Emily Steinwall Is a Force for Unity on 'Welcome to the Garden'
Published Mar 30, 2021In the midst of fractured social structures and insurmountable isolation, Toronto saxophonist Emily Steinwall is a force for togetherness and connectivity. It's more than a mission statement for the 26-year-old composer — it's the thesis for her debut full-length album, Welcome to the Garden. The conceptual project finds Steinwall hungry for unity in a way that presents itself as both cannibalistic and celestial. She blends care and tenderness into the mix as she positions herself as a binding element of textures, moods and complex sonic palettes.
Those themes are best capsulized in the record's epic 10-minute title track, a psychedelic orgy of sound that delivers on its promise to embrace listeners into its darkened depths. Fae trickery abound, the track is less an open door than it is a siren call, evoking the innate and eternal power of Mother Nature, the diabolical, sublime spirit of the wilderness and, by proxy, womanhood. The song's complex arrangement — featuring undulating vocals, swirling flute, delicate keys and an intoxicating mid-track saxophone solo — simultaneously emit an air of wickedness and warmth, suggesting the creeping, mycelial quality of divination.
Threading in a gentler tone, daylight breaks in the album's second track "Bloom," which features vocal assistance by Toronto-based singer-songwriter Kyla Charter. Here, Steinwall makes a hard romantic U-turn, blending airiness and harmony with upbeat, jazzy guitar. Where "Late Night Romantic" employs a similar tenderness, Steinwall aims her love inward this turn, swelling gently in the short two-minute vignette filled out by soft piano and ethereal flute.
"Back to Earth," another album highlight, is a paradoxically cosmic piece of sonic cinematics, with vocal arrangements akin to that of Corinne Bailey Rae or Winnipeg's Begonia. Conceptually, Steinwall links the song to the album through its lovey-dovey connectivity, though again, the track leans more in the direction of self-love. It's a euphoric, affirming chapter from the Garden, with a healthy six-minute runtime grounded by themes of ephemerality and a pulsating drumline. Otherworldly transmission "Everlasting Love" offers a poppy, joyous reprieve from the album's heavier tones, taking on an almost Disney-like quality as Steinwall sings, "I am just stardust learning to find its way home / My heart will guide me back no matter where I roam / 'Cause you are my home."
Most of the album's seven tracks offer up at least five minutes each, serving portions of lushness, enchanting femininity and disarming earnestness at each turn. Steinwall's impressive debut is truly an honour to behold. (Independent)