“Loving myself is like running in a maze,” Emma Ayz (pronounced “eyes”) sings on the title-track opener of her debut EP Animus. But the singer/songwriter runs that maze is nevertheless, guided by a desire to find at its end a way to be more comfortable in her own skin. On Animus, that journey inward (with detours through Jungian psychology) is soundtracked by Ayz’s verdantly lush folk-pop.
She channels the grandiose beauty of Ella Fitzgerald numbers on “Animus,” her tender vocals slow-dancing their way alongside a swooning orchestral backing. While on “Hardly in Love” she wrestles with self-eviscerating heartbreak against the at first melancholy, but eventually defiant, grumble of guitars. Just like the maze Ayz sings about in her album opener, there’s an understanding throughout the album that sometimes the only way to make it out of life’s hardest moments is to just go directly through them.
To confront them and yourself lucidly — no compartmentalization or burying it deep down. Which is exactly what she does on “Judy,” its cavernous and lilting melodies providing ample space for Ayz to open up about some of the darker moments: like the grief of a friend who has just lost their mother. Or “Becca,” a song written to finally put to rest the name her trans brother had before he changed it, as well as memories of his struggle with substance abuse.
In a lot of ways, there is no escaping the maze that Ayz likens to loving herself. Something she discovered after facing both personal life changes as well as larger, existential ones. It was after reading the feminist book Women Who Run With the Wolves that Ayz discovered the Jungian concept from which she borrows her album’s title — a “masculine counterpart of femininity” — that allowed her as a queer woman to finally find some harmony in herself that didn’t rely on social and cultural archetypes. It was then she realized loving herself as the beautiful mess she was would take a continuous effort.
“I started really working on myself. Now I have an insane morning routine of meditation, movement of my body, and deep gratitude. At the same time, I started to grieve a lot of the things that I had sort of pushed down. I guess I was grieving the person who I was before.”
Words by Steven Ward
Listen to Emma Ayz’s debut EP Animus below!