Artist Spotlight: Emery

July 3, 2009 at 1:37 pm Leave a comment

For fans of Between the Trees, Dance Gavin Dance and Anberlin

Undoubtedly one of the most underrated bands around today, Seattle’s Emery is finally gaining [some of] the recognition they deserve.

Emery (From L to R: Powell, Carter, Head, Morrell, Shelton)

Emery (From L to R: Powell, Carter, Head, Morrell, Shelton)

With their latest release …In Shallow Seas We Sail reaching up to number 50 on the Billboard 200, it is clear that this band finally made the album everyone was waiting for.

Hold on.

That’s not to say their last couple releases went unheard (or unappreciated). The South Carolina natives’ debut album The Weak’s End (2004) was a hardcore masterpiece, with the opening track “Walls” simply blowing listeners away from the very start. The heartbreaking track “The Ponytail Parades” follows “Walls” (check out the acoustic piano version of this song, it’s even sadder), along with standout tracks “Disguising Mistakes with Goodbyes” and “Bloodless.”

The Weaks End

The Weak's End

The record is extremely well produced and impressive from start to finish. Emery manages to keep the listener’s interest the whole way through, while also keeping their sound in tact (a difficult feat for many bands these days). The album ends with the slower, harder “The Secret,” another song perfectly documenting a broken relationship.

Emery boasts not one, not two, but three powerhouse vocalists, Toby Morrell, Devin Shelton and Josh Head. These guys are, hands down, some of the best in the scene…the first two seamlessly transitioning between sweet melodies and screaming harmonies while Head backs them up with high-intensity screams. One of their favorite tricks is to have two melodies going at once, sometimes even with completely different lyrics. This is one of my favorite aspects of their music; it allows for not only more of the band’s flawless lyrics to shine through, but adds a whole new dimension to each song and more emotion to the words being sung.

Due to various personnel changes, Morrell and Shelton also take turns playing bass (Shelton also plays guitar alongside Matt Carter, while Dave Powell owns on the drum kit). And honestly, Emery’s music is just as complex and dynamic as their lineup.

The band followed The Weak’s End just one year later with The Question, where they traded in some of their harder numbers for fast-paced, melody-driven tracks. Head adds his keyboard skills to the mix on this one, helping to push the band even slightly closer to a “poppier” sound. Overall, this is a solid record, with standout tracks including the opener, “So Cold I Could See My Breath,” along with “Studying Politics,” “Left With Alibis and Lying Eyes” and “Listening to Freddie Mercury.”

The Question

The Question

And then came 2007’s I’m Only a Man. I’ve read countless reviews from self-proclaimed “hardcore Emery fans” who were extremely disappointed with this album (though iTunes hails it as “Emery’s best yet, and an album that may prove hard to beat”).  The problem that most fans had with this album is how far the band had strayed from their original sound (they’ve got NOTHING on My Chemical Romance in that department). None of the songs on this record could have been on The Weak’s End, as Head’s keyboard parts are nearly everywhere, along with many nods to 70’s and 80’s style pop-rock (check out the chorus to “Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus” if you don’t believe me). “The Party Song,” in particular, rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way, with its repetitive chorus of “You party onnnnnnnnnnnn, party onnnnnnnnnnn, get your party onnnnnnnn, get your party onnnnnnnn.”

Im Only a Man

I'm Only a Man

Personally, I never really got into it. I don’t hate the album, by any means, but it just doesn’t have any tracks that make it pop like the first two releases (aside from “Chorus,” once you get past the very odd beginning and get used to the techno-y chorus, which is clearly used as a metaphor for the song’s title).

At the end of 2008, Emery released an EP called While Broken Hearts Prevail, which fans instantly fell in love with. As one iTunes reviewer so accurately writes, “Oh, there you are Emery! We missed you! It’s good to see Emery return to the style that made them remarkable previously established in The Question and The Weaks End and retreat from the blunder and boredom that was I’m Only a Man.” Gone were the techno beats and the lyrics about partying on, and back were the breakdowns, screaming and dueling vocal lines.

While Broken Hearts Prevail EP

The EP opens with “The Smile, The Face” and “Edge of the World,” which are both reissued on Shallow Seas. “Edge” is a knockout on both the EP and the new album, with the band’s signature crossover between hardcore and soft rock and back again highlighting their incredible versatility. The bridge shows this wonderfully, especially with the ending line, “my intentions were to never give myself to anyone, look what I’ve done…”, which carries the song back into full swing with Head’s screeching vocals backed with Morrell and Shelton’s perfect harmonies. Closer “Thoughtlife” is also a nice track, a simple piano song laced with the angsty lyrics that make Emery the perfect band to listen to everytime you’re angry at your love interest.

With fans dying of anticipation, …In Shallow Seas We Sail was released on June 2nd of this year and has skyrocketed in popularity (and for good reason). The record opens with the screaming “Cutthroat Collapse” and remains completely engaging until the end. Alongside “Edge of the World,” the title track is the best cut on this one. Following the same layout as “Edge,” “In Shallow Seas We Sail” goes back and forth between its hard choruses and more easy-going verses before the heartbreaking vocals in the bridge lead up to the highest point of the number, the huge ending led by powerful performances from Morrell and Shelton. Other standouts on this album include the orchestra-backed “Churches and Serial Killers,” the harder “Butcher’s Mouth” and classic Emery on display in “Piggy Bank Lies.”

...In Shallow Seas We Sail

The first time I listened to this album, it was on a playlist with Green Day‘s newest release, 21st Century Breakdown, which I was also listening to for the first time (I’ll review that one some other time). I listened to Green Day first, from start to finish (I always force myself to listen to albums this way the first time) and found myself wanting to press the >> button on several occasions. To make a rock opera from one of the biggest bands in the world pale in comparison to your album, you know you’ve done something right.

Bottom line: If your interest in Emery has waned over the years, or if you’ve never heard of them (in which case, you probably didn’t read this far), you need to listen to Shallow Seas (and I also highly recommend The Weak’s End). This band is extremely talented, hardworking and Toby Morrell is one of the nicest people I’ve ever talked to. They care so much about their music, their fans and their families, that it’s impossible to say one bad thing about these guys. Support this band.

Emery Links:
Official Website
iTunes Store


Entry filed under: Artist Spotlight, Opinion. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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