“I just wanna be perfect/ Anything less is shameful,” goes one song on gobbinjr’s forthcoming EP, vom night. Encapsulating an artist’s ethos into a singular mission statement is a futile exercise, but if you were to attempt such a feat for Emma Witmer’s endlessly inventive synth-pop project, that would come pretty damn close. Her music chases the unattainable goal of perfection; her lyrics comb over the painful process of wanting to be wanted, of wanting enough. “No one wants to love someone who’s never been loved before,” she sings on another new track. Witmer treats attraction as a closed loop, a thoroughly internal process, an equation to which there is no solution except isolation. It’s classic outsider music, emulating the embarassing feeling of not having anything when it appears like everyone else around you at least has something. Perfection? Anything less is shameful.
Witmer started making music alone after her prolificacy outmatched the pace of the band she started with her best friend in high school in Wisconsin. Half the songs on manalang, her 2015 debut, were written in that time period; the other half were written during and after her freshman year at NYU following some encouragement from her roommates at the time. From the first notes of manalang, it’s apparent that Witmer has tapped into something special. On intro “u,” buzzing gives way to a warbled, pinched voice that’s equal parts unsettling and warm; the only discernible phrase is a squealed, teased-out “it was boring.”
That tension spills into “insufrible,” manalang’s first proper track and the first perfect pop song in what’s sure to be a long career of them. “One two three and I’m at the door again,” she counts off. “Call me back and I’m on the floor again.” Witmer copes with imbalance and unrealistic expectations by contextualizing that instability within confident, playful songs: “You got me all mixed up, deranged,” she sings. “You are insufferable, my dear.” Keys cascade in the background, handclaps ground Witmer’s airy compositions. Every gobbinjr song is filled with those kind of subtle sonic ingenuities, making each one shimmer like a funhouse of heightened emotion and irrational anxieties. “bb gurl” descends into a series of communal woah’s that sound like kids getting twirled around on a carnival ride; the back half of “i hate gimmicks (i am always underground)” morphs into a dazzling display of light.
The whimsical, elastic nature of her music is inviting and enveloping, but Witmer’s lyrics betray all of the ways in which she feels like an irregular edge. On the title track of her new EP, she asks: “Have you ever felt that someone was mysterious and strange? When you get too close, you feel the urge to look the other way?” On “firefly,” vom night’s lead single (which you can listen to above), she admits: “I feel creepy all the time/ Because I like everybody more than they like me.”
“firefly” was written after Witmer got in “a very dark place last Fourth Of July” and found herself growing increasingly upset about the constant fireworks. “You can see all the smoke in the sky and everything bad that we’re doing to the environment,” she explains. “And we’re all just like, Oh, look at these pretty lights. And I had the thought: Everything we do is awful for the world. Humans are terrible. So I saw a firefly and thought, Why can’t I be just that? Why can’t I just not kill the world by living?” So on “firefly,” she beckons: “What do you think of leaving Earth and everyone we know? We could go anytime you want, just let me know/ I just wanna be a firefly, I just want the human race to die.”
Her songs often take the form of escapist fantasy: getting turned into a firefly, dreaming that your girlfriend died, imagining yourself among dolphins and manatees in the sea. They’re imbued with a childish sense of wonder and adventure, but Witmer can’t help but acknowledge the haunting uncertainties of maturation. On “no name,” she asks the impossibly hard question: “Why did I have to see that you’re the only one for me? What did I have to do to be the only one for you?,” but she’s alone with her thoughts and receives no reply. On “reason,” she searches for a natural order to things but comes up short: “It’s gotta be you,” she sings, but provides no justification besides a deep-seated need for it to be that easy. Adolescent awkwardness is mashed up against the harsh realities of everyday adult life, instinctual desire is cut down by the paranoid buzzing in our own heads.
vom night, the title of her new EP, takes a traditional rite of passage and twists it into a darkly comedic coming-of-age. The EP is a collaboration with illustrator Sophia Foster-Dimino, who made a comic to accompany the mood of the six-song collection. The comic provides some insight into Witmer’s internal monologue: “I began to feel panicked,” it reads as the main character stares into a bathroom mirror. “I looked at my infinite reflections. As I glanced back and forth, I realized we’d fallen out of sync. Some of my reflections were faster than me, and some had stopped walking completely. I didn’t know whether to feel proud or jealous of my selves who had almost made it to the door. None of them were looking back at me.”
That multiplicity of selves is apparent in every single one of gobbinjr’s songs, and it’s what makes them so powerfully intoxicating. Witmer is striving to find some form of stasis, but it feels as though she’s being pulled in a million different directions at once. Music seems like the only way she’s able to tie those disparate threads together: “I know your feelings and I make them rhyme,” she sings in a meta moment on “firefly.” There’s both a burden and a catharsis that comes from having the talent to translate acute fears of loneliness and isolation into resonant pop songs, and if Witmer lacks a sense of normalcy in her everyday life, she can at least rest assured that she’s making music that’s as perfect as can be.
03 “vom nite”
05 “may we all have space”
Tour Dates (w/ Long Neck):
09/06 Jersey City, NJ @ The Citizen
09/07 Beacon, NY @ Quinn’s
09/08 Poultny, VT @ Green Mountain College
09/09 Dover, NH @ Wrong Brain
09/10 Boston, MA @ Trixie’s Palace
09/11 Oxford, CT @ The Grange
09/12 Brooklyn, NY @ Shea Stadium
vom night is out 11/4 via JMC Aggregate. Pre-order it here.