Carly Rae Jepsen — E•MO•TION Side B
August 26th was tape decks’ biggest day since the mid-90s. The satisfying “ka-chunk” sound of a tape snapping into its housing opens two excellent EPs released on that Friday. I’ve already talked about the first, so now let’s take a look at the other.
On the heels of 2015’s E•MO•TION — which has my vote for the best pure pop album of the 2010s—Canadian pop artist Carly Rae Jepsen apparently had a ton of material left hanging around. That’s great news for us, because it led to E•MO•TION Side B. Though the EP isn’t quite as enthralling or dynamic as its older sister, it’s more of the addictive, infectious, 80s-inflected pop that’s become CRJ’s signature. Where do I sign?
Opener “First Time” also happens to be one of the 8 song EP’s strongest tracks. The snappy bass and neon synths return to make a backdrop that’s kinetic, but never distracting, allowing Jepsen’s vocals to take center stage. She turns in another tour de force performance on this album. Jepsen owns her material completely, selling even the silliest phrases (like “we were kids just playing with truth or dare”) in such a way that you can’t help but feel invested.
But once again, it’s the construction of “First Time” that sets Jepsen apart from her peers. She, Swedish songwriter-producers Rami Yacoub and Carl Falk, and English songwriter Wayne Hector, craft yet another song that’s so simple, yet so intricate. Little instrumental flourishes—a hidden guitar line here, a synth countermelody there—don’t assert themselves, but add depth to the track and reveal themselves on close listening.
From a structural perspective, it’s yet another masterclass of pop writing. The way Jepsen et al. delay the effusive backing of the chorus, change the underscoring of the verses to keep things fresh, but familiar, and transition to the bridge and back is pure perfection. The team of writers that Jepsen has surrounded herself with is without parallel. Even if you were to take away the 80’s sheen from Side B, you’d still have a collection of incredibly well written pop music.
E•MO•TION is an album about volition, desire, and definitive feelings. Jepsen found herself in a variety of situations, but, by and large, she knew what she thought about each one. It’s all “give me,” “I want,” “I’m not.” Side B, by comparison, seems to truck in uncertainty and doubt. “The One” draws a very thin line between love and attraction:
“If you want to, you can stay the night/
I don’t want to be the one/
If you want to, you can hold me tight/
I don’t want to be the one/
It’s too much pressure”
It’s a stance, but one that rests on shaky ground. The song is a constant struggle between Jepsen feeling romance creep in and asserting that she doesn’t want that responsibility.
“I think we’re overthinking it,” from standout “Body Language” has similar implications. Jepsen wants to be “lovers,” her partner wants to be “friends.” But, unlike E•MO•TION’s “Your Type,” the separation isn’t as clearly defined. The water’s far muddier, as it’s pretty obvious that they’re currently existing in a space in between the two. It’s interesting territory that Jepsen explores with a great deal of success. She examines relatable, yet often ineffable interpersonal dynamics with clarity and depth, offering insight belied by its sugary packaging. This comes from another strength that Side B shares with E•MO•TION. Something about Jepsen makes you feel like she’s talking to you as a friend, not just as a listener. That connection is foundational to E•MO•TION and Side B’s long-term appeal. The songs catch your ear, but the insight and emotional resonance keep you coming back.
What’s missing from Side B are tracks like “Warm Blood,” “LA Hallucination,” or “Favorite Colour.” The material Jepsen et al. work with on Side B is decidedly more constrained. The EP is almost exclusively populated by jaunty, mid- to up-tempo 80s throwbacks. Each of the EP’s 8-tracks work on their own, but when put together, they begin to feel monochromatic. It’s the only time that these songs truly feel like leave-offs from a fully formed album. It’s like having the same great meal every day for a month. It may be awesome for the first week, but the Law of Diminishing Returns being what it is, the lack of variety begins to feel monotonous. One or two palate cleansers would have worked wonders for Side B. Intriguing closer “Roses” comes close, finding Jepsen exploring the EDM space much like she did in some of E•MO•TION’s more adventurous moments. Each of Side B’s songs appeal in their own way, but would be better served as singles to insert into your favorite playlists than as a collection of songs you listen to end to end.
E•MO•TION was a shocking burst of brilliance from an artist many—myself included—probably wrote off as a one-hit wonder halfway through “Call Me Maybe.” Carly Rae Jepsen’s not surprising anyone this time around, but with E•MO•TION Side B she’s showed that she’s got the performing and songwriting chops to keep us under her spell for years to come. It doesn’t reach the highs of last year‘s breakout, but it’s still immaculately crafted, sneakily insightful pop music.
Essential Tracks: “First Time,” “Body Language,” “Roses”