Taken as a whole, Scout Niblett’s latest, This Fool Can Die Now, might fall into the latter category. A Brit-turned-Portlander, Niblett (real name Emma Louise) is known for her barebones songs, sometimes consisting of just vocals and drums. This Fool is the same kind of stripped-down effort, but it’s also a collaborative one—featuring vocals from indie-folk singer Will Oldham on four tracks. As such, it calms down the typically reckless songwriter.
Niblett is often compared to Cat Power or PJ Harvey, and her music—which ranges from soul to folk to even metal—is often dictated by wildly emotional lyrics (on “Baby Emma” she repeats “you’re not me” over and over, her voice becoming louder and higher with every pass). But This Fool moves back and forth between idiosyncratic solo songs like “Let Thine Heart Be Warned,” characterized by Niblett’s shrill voice and drawn-out drumbeats, and folk numbers such as “Do You Wanna Be Buried With My People?,” where Oldham’s haunting warble complements a simple guitar.
When Niblett sings with another musician—most commonly male—she relaxes, letting her voice croon instead of crack. And her lyrics acknowledge the collaboration: On This Fool’s most melodic and emotionally subtle song, “Kiss,” Niblett and Oldham sing to each other: “Darling take my hand/ Lead me through the dawn/ Let’s kidnap each other and start singing our song.” The effect is chilling—and makes for the most resonant song on the album.
This is not to say that Niblett should give up her solo career and join a band—or that she’s only worthwhile duetting with men. But she is more confident when she does, a trait she could apply more frequently to her solo outings. All too often, solo (especially female) vocalists lean on experimentation rather than their own talent: Niblett has talent in spades—and it speaks so much louder when she focuses on substance over style.
SEE IT: Niblett celebrates the release of This Fool Can Die Now Tuesday, Oct. 9, with Adrian Orange and New Bloods at Holocene. 9 pm. $7. 21+. This Fool Can Die Now comes out Tuesday, Oct. 9.