Review Summary: Emarosa vs. expectations
Change is never easy, especially when a group or individual is seemingly successful in their current venture. For post hardcore outfit Emarosa, who had released two successful albums in 2008 and 2010, it would seem that future success would come from following the formula they had already established: continue putting out albums of melodic, alternative-leaning post hardcore, centered around the vocal stylings of their erratic yet talented lead singer, Jonny Craig. Yet in early 2011, after a series of scandals involving their frontman’s worsening addiction, the band was at a crossroads. Stand behind the man who had helped propel them to greater popularity, regardless of the ramifications, or start fresh? Ultimately, Emarosa decided that they had had enough, and let Craig go. However, the process of finding a new vocalist that fit the band’s sound proved to be far more difficult than the band initially expected, and it would be more than three years before the band finally completed their new record, Versus
. Along the way, they auditioned many different vocalists with a variety of sounds… but early in the process, they found something special in the form of Bradley Walden, of Michigan-based Squid the Whale. His classic soul-leaning vocals provided something new to the band, without straying too far from their previous sound, and the band immediately offered him the position. However, Walden initially turned the band down, and it wouldn’t be until he left Squid the Whale in 2013 that the moment finally arose for him to take his place in one of his favorite bands.
Yet don’t be fooled, Walden’s presence is far from the only thing that has changed on Versus
. Along with the band’s new frontman comes several changes to their sound, as they move away from post hardcore into a more soulful, alternative rock direction. The band eases the listener in to their new sound on opening track “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play”. On both of Emarosa’s previous full-lengths, Relativity
and 2010’s self titled effort, the opening track was a standout, but also a benchmark for the rest of the album, a lead-in to the sound that would define the rest of the listening experience. On this, easily the band’s most diverse record, the opener hews closer to the band’s post hardcore roots, opening with a burst of energy while still highlighting the band’s improved songwriting prowess. In one of the album’s standout moments, Walden begins the second verse in a similar manner to the first before - in a seeming burst of spontaneity that feels completely natural - saying “ah, fuck it” as the song shifts gears into a particularly intense passage. It is this feeling of improvisation, a feeling that the band is constantly on the edge of different styles and musical motifs, that makes Versus
such a fascinating and enjoyable listen.
This sense of adventure and experimentation continues throughout the record’s 11 tracks, as they quickly discard much of their old post hardcore slant to explore a broader rock and pop palate. Nowhere is this more successful than on the album’s first slow jam, “I’ll Just Wait”. Over a mellow guitar line reminiscent of Blue October and U2, Walden croons of love lost and mistakes made before the song builds into a simple yet poignant chorus:
Are you happy? Are you happier?
Yeah, you know me
All the years I’ve been around
And the fears that you found out
But I’m still waiting
This is one of many standout moments that bury themselves deep in the listener’s consciousness, due to both their catchiness and emotional impact. This is present on the album’s other slow cuts, “Say Hello to the Bad Guy” and “Same Tight Rope”, as well as the bluesy “A Hundred Crowns” and the album’s closing track “1996 On Bevard”, with a powerful hook that will have music fans of all stripes singing along. Brian McTernan’s production unifies the record’s diverse elements, making Versus
work well as a full listening experience and as a collection of great individual tracks. While the album could occasionally use an extra shot of energy in its slower moments, strong songwriting and a greater balance between the vocals and instrumentation shines throughout. On Versus
, Emarosa have not only proven that they are more than one frontman, but that the right
frontman pushes them further as a band. Those expecting a sequel to Relativity
or the self-titled album may walk away disappointed, but if listeners are willing to put their expectations aside, they will see the record for what it is: a fantastic collection of music from a group many had written off. This album exudes potential, and it will be fascinating to see where the band’s new-found confidence takes them next.