New York by-way-of Texas singer-songwriter Emily Wells has ignored traditional genre boundaries right from the beginning. From her earliest self-produced albums through her most recent, she incorporates electronic music, hip-hop, the blues, and even elements of classical into her skeletal folk arrangements, making for a spontaneous and sometimes unpredictable experience. On Promise, Wells continues threading those influences into her music, but mostly trades out folk music in favor of a more classical approach. The music is haunting and melancholic, but it also possesses a startling sense of beauty, and the new direction fittingly captures the themes of friendship, the climate changing, fear of the unknown, and love and desire and risk and amnesia.

Promise builds off of the cinematic atmosphere of 2012's Mama (recorded shortly after Wells had worked with former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman turned film score composer Clint Mansell) and the music almost feels as if it were scoring intimate home movies. Which kind of makes sense considering the process of making the album centered around an internal conversation that Wells "tried to extend through books and a chronic watching of Pina Bausch films." The songs feel deeply personal at times, and the arrangements are lavish and dense. Wells once again plays most of the instruments here, and she also treats her own voice like an instrument itself, multi-tracking it to create a kind of ghostly choral effect throughout the album. Lead track 'Los Angeles' not only sets the tone for the rest of the album, but also possibly stands as one its most stirring moments.

Over a seven-minute sprawl of aching and elegant strings and a gradually building pulsating beat, Wells coaxes an almost otherworldly and impassioned croon that's at once gorgeous and troubled by a sense of despair that only makes 'Los Angeles' all the more gripping. 'Take It Easy'--a slow burning ballad draped in Wells' wistful harmonies and mournful violin whose somber mood is rippled slightly by distant tribal percussion--runs a close second in terms of its emotional pull, while 'Come To Me' begins as a beautifully haunted hymn that transforms itself into something nearly joyous towards the end. And whether she's dipping into gospel on 'Fallin In On It', filtering the cocky swagger of hip-hop through 'Pack Of Nobodies', or exploring the blues and Americana on 'Antidote', Wells has a gift for making the transition from style to style across a single album seem almost natural.

The often repetitive, agonistic, and emotional nature of Bausch's work was also an influence on Wells during the recording of Promise (especially her work as a producer), as was Bausch's tendency to build on layers of repetition, disrupt them, then build them again. With so many layers piled on top of one another, Promise can be a little suffocating at first. It isn't the kind of album you would put on in the background while finishing up mundane chores on a Sunday afternoon or to soundtrack a quick trip through Whole Foods. Wells has described Promise as the kind of album that requires patience and time from the listener. But considering how captivating and compelling the music can be, the time is well spent in the end.