Review Summary: Droning, subdued, depressive, and aloof, yet somehow massively engaging and emotional.
Engine Down - Demure
Back when the Take Action tour seemed to mean something, Thursday, Cursive, Poison the Well, and Engine Down were all on the bill together. I couldn't attend the San Francisco showing, and considering that since then I've seen Thursday, Cursive, and Engine Down live, not attending that particular concert has allowed me the luxury of excluding the crappy Poison the Well from my personal live music experience. Thursday is fairly in your face and visceral whereas Cursive is much more depressive and repressed though they can also engage in high melodrama. Engine Down doesn't really fit in with those personalities. Sure, they have angular, interlocking guitar riffs and intense crescendos, but in general, Engine Down are somewhat droning, minimal, and reserved, qualities that don't really fit into the post-hardcore genre, though Engine Down are decidedly a post-hardcore band.
is Engine Down's third LP and feels like it's a calculated step away from the aggression and intensity of their previous releases. The allmusic biography I read on Engine Down describes Demure
as "moody" and that vague term somehow feels right for this album. Its drama doesn't carry the in-your-face screaming type gravity of emo or post-hardcore, but in its understated way, Demure
is equally heartwrenching and powerful. To understand this power it's helpful to look at the technical aspects of Engine Down's style on this album.
As I mentioned earlier, Engine Down is post-hardcore, but their sound deviates in many ways. Their guitarists write interlocking parts that embrace a lot of dissonant intervals (major 7ths and minor 2nds are big favorites) and the guitarists also often use dyads instead of triads or barred chords, which draw out these intervals with the bare harmonic cover. The album begins on such a bare guitar interlocking on the ponderous "Songbird." However, other than that, there's nothing on paper that insists upon being post-hardcore. Beyond the interlocking and typical chord voicings, the guitars are very sparse and usually engage contrapuntally with one another. These rhythmic overlaps are then repeated ad nauseum to establish Engine Down's notorious droning sound. The bass and drums typically establish a similar drone by repeating heavy heavy grooves. For example, the groove created by the slow bass movements at around 1:40 in "Detour" is the thickest, most languid thing I've ever heard. The result of these pulsating, heavy grooves is both hypnotic and invigorating. Chill and intense. On top of it all are the almost lazy vocals. The singer, Keeley, sounds incredibly disengaged from the music at all times as if casting an aloof depression over the incredibly brooding contents of the disc. Fitting with this are the bleak and somewhat cryptic lyrics. Some of the best and most poignant are on "Songbird."
Originally Posted by Songbird
Has just called me out
This wrong word
Just might blow out
Made the stain for comforts sake
As its name implies, it's this consistent, droning oppression that gives Demure
its emotional impact and not some in-your-face melodrama. By being somewhat reserved and understated, its drama is all the more painful because it's veiled under the sedated sounds of droning bass and drums, and simple but effective guitar harmonies. Demure
is a ridiculously weighty album, and can be faulty for its almost unrelenting depressive, subdued nature, but at the end of the day is a great overall listen with some killer individual tracks. If anything its something nicely different for a genre that too often relies on extravagance of emotion.
Recommended Tracks for the most subdued shi
t ever: Songbird, Demure, Overrated, Closed Call
Recommended Tracks for something a little more lively: Pantomime, Second of February