The Childlike Empress is a Pittsburgh (by way of New York) singer, songwriter, and banjoist whose heartfelt confessionals act as emotional salves for both artist and listener. Their debut album, Take Care Of Yourself, was released last week.
The most striking thing about the Childlike Empress’s album release show at Babyland last Friday was the sense of community present in the room. Chairs were passed through the audience to accommodate performers, faulty amps were tinkered with by members of preceding bands, and a good-natured mosh pit formed during a set that included banjo, violin, and cello. Such is the power of The Childlike Empress’s music, I suppose. Take Care Of Yourself was born from a period of interpersonal strife and depression, and the songs included on the album don’t shy away from difficult, upsetting themes. “Far Rockaway” is one of the album’s highlights, a dark, minimalist hoedown that becomes a back-porch ballad that becomes a skyscraping emo anthem. Atop outlaw banjo pickin’ and handclaps, the Empress weaves a tale of two intertwined lives slowly crumbling: “Go downtown to find some drugs/We get in trouble, but we’re in love,” “World is ending/We’re still chilling/I won’t mind if you won’t mind.” After a while, they rein in their banjo’s steady drive, reducing the instrumental to a meandering series of plucks, and recall a scene of streetlamp cigarette smoking with a significant other; the memory would be peaceful if it weren’t interspersed with worries of friends dying in the summertime. Finally, drums and strings kick in, and the track explodes upward, Shani Banerjee’s violin ascending toward the stratosphere like doves unleashed from a cage; the Empress’s voice soars as they promise, “I’m not leaving you tonight.” The song’s coda acts as catharsis, unleashing the emotion that’s been building for the previous four minutes. Overall, the themes of “Far Rockaway” mirror those of Take Care Of Yourself as a whole: depression, addiction, raw honesty, and, ultimately, redemption.