For Emma Witmer, things aren’t ever as they seem. The weird, whimsical world of her synth-pop project gobbinjr features wild fantasies, colorful characters and glittering odes to weed, friendship and the now-defunct (yet still beloved) Brooklyn venue Shea Stadium. On 2016’s vom night EP, Witmer imagines herself as a firefly hovering magically above the earth. “What do you think of leaving Earth and everyone we know?” she sings sweetly, before ultimately declaring: “I just want the human race to die already.”
The darkness that lurks below the surface of gobbinjr’s music offers complex and captivating charm. At first listen, Witmer sounds like the pinnacle of innocence; her voice is crisp, clear and childlike as she spins her twisted nursery rhymes. But on ocala wick, her Topshelf Records debut, she expands, embracing her gift for eccentricity while refining and maturing her signature oddball style. Absurdly catchy and deeply personal, the album exposes Witmer’s private vulnerabilities while beautifully harnessing her newfound strength.
Witmer, originally from Wisconsin, uses ocala wick to paint vivid portraits of the New York music scene. She recounts tales of hanging out with friends and avoiding unwelcome sexual advances— scenes with which most young Brooklyn transplants will relate. “I felt you press your dick against my thigh,” she sings on album highlight “fake bitch,” her voice riding a shimmering synth wave. “You’re a fake bitch and you know it.” Throughout the album Witmer longs to escape; on “fake bitch” it’s from creeps at gigs, but sometimes it’s the world at large, or even herself. “I just want to get away,” she says.
The tinkering “Bap” finds Witmer musing that she might be “becoming more human.” The rest of ocala wick makes good on that promise, utilizing humor and juxtaposition as a shield against unsavory realities. The wistful and melancholy “whydoistillcare” captures the suffocating hopelessness and frustration of wishing your feelings could just disappear. “Sorry Charlie,” with its cinematic organ intro, is a sermon on sadness. “Why’d you have to die? You were such a good guy,” Witmer sings, her naive candor emphasizing themes of grief and loss. A bright, knotty riff adds thoughtful pause as Witmer offers that “it’s the scary things that make us stronger.”
But ocala wick isn’t without its lighter moments. The sugary “Friends” is a playful, drunken lullaby, while “immune,” a tender piano ballad, has Witmer claiming that she’s “immune to romance.” Behind the jokes and saccharine-sweet melodies, though, Witmer finds inner strength. “I’m not as hopeless as you might like,” she asserts on “november 163.”
Witmer says that ocala wick was inspired by “creepy dudes at shows, not wanting to be sexualized at work and not reciprocating inappropriate advances.” While that’s certainly evident— the album ends with a message that “respect and attraction can live in harmony” on the bouncing “politely”— ocala wick is less about external forces, and more about Witmer herself looking inward. “I’m going to work high, I’m sitting at work high…nice to meet you,” she sings in the album’s opening lines. For the first 10 seconds, it’s just her voice and a soft, gently strumming guitar. As Emma Witmer introduces herself to us, she’s definitely vulnerable, but never weak. The troubles and triumphs on her mind just might be the same ones on yours, too.