reviewed by Chris Matei
I admit, I’m faintly acquainted with Emily in the Headlights through their frontman, Kalum Utley; however, it’s not familiarity made in the musical sense but through regular rips around the city on our bicycles as members of a local riding club. There’s a certain cadence one settles into at speed, a certain blooming of effort in the lungs and legs until it cracks through the pain threshold – and, perhaps not coincidentally, there’s a lot of that steady burn toward unbridled power to be found on The Deep End. A record that is consistently melodic but by turns aggressive, laconic and introspective, it stands as yet another example of a young West Coast outfit bringing a big sound to the local stage.
A short track list belies the album’s slow pull toward longer and more intricate songs, but also shows that Emily In The Headlights have more punch on the shorter cuts. Though “Colours” makes use of a well-worn chord progression that screams “instant post-rock,” it heads in ambitious directions anchored by solid drums and weighty vocals. “Get In, Get Out” explores the lyrical need to shake something up, and viscerally so. Its repetitive, insistent closing vocal drives home a central ambiguity: does the song come down as an admonition or a realization?
“Grave Song” hooks early with the introduction of very present, in-the-room piano riff – again melodically focused, with simplistic riffs given some creative twists. And again, it’s lyrically ambiguous – is Utley besotted or tormented by the song’s subject? The band gets a lot of room to dig in to the riffs here – and dig they do, expressively and dynamically. The aggressive, screamed outro section is a jarring contrast – to introduce this kind of dynamic shift late in a mid-album cut, rather than showing it as a part of the album’s overall songwriting blueprint, cues up some questions about the editorial process that shaped this record.
The album’s conclusion is a night-driver for most of its eight minute running time, riding along on a thrumming set of controlled rhythmic ideas – and after the last track, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that it, too, will crack open into something more unhinged vocally and instrumentally. Include the synthy, vocoded snip of an outro, and the same concerns come up: could this song have been worked to a less expansive, but tighter, final package?
Once concluded, The Deep End reads like a dive off of a steep ledge from warm, well-trodden, artistic post-rock vibes toward emotional rawness and catharsis. It’s a sonically rich listen across all levels, but it tells a story that may have been better served across a full-length record with a different set of songwriting parameters.
Top Tracks: “Colours,” “Get In, Get Out”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)