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In Shallow Seas We Sail
Artist: Emery
Label: Tooth & Nail Records
Length: 13 Tracks / 41:11

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I'm going to come right out with it: this is Emery's finest album, and it all started in 2004.

The year 2004 was the year most people were introduced to a fledgeling genre we now remember as "Screamo". Screamo blends the screamed vocals and technical guitars of post-hardcore with the pop sensibilities and pretty singing of mid-nineties Emo. It quickly fell out of fashion because of a litany of talentless copycats and extreme overcommercialization, much like Rapcore did in the late 90's.

Emery's 2004 debut, The Weak's End, garnered quite reserved reactions. At first glance, they seemed to be another Screamo band sporting dual vocalists. I think this rubbed a lot of critics and listeners the wrong way because it seemed like a cash-in on the popularity of other acts of the time - after all, 2004 was the year of Underoath's They're Only Chasing Safety, as well as Dead Poetic's New Medicines, and ultimately it was the year Linkin Park's Meteora solid a gajillion copies. 

The Weak's End was a decent debut - nothing spectacular, but since Screamo was the flavor of the year it sold quite well. The melodies were pretty good, the screamed vocals were satisfying, and the heart-on-sleeve, honest lyrics resonated with many. The record was ultimately driven forward on the strength of its most visible track. That track is "The Ponytail Parades", and it represented Emery at their best - soaring harmonies and impassioned, agonizing screams told the story of a broken heart in a way that continues to resonate with fans to this day. Emery has since released the song in both acoustic and live versions on subsequent albums. 

Just as violently as the Screamo tides came in, so they left not too shortly after. Pioneers in the genre such as Underoath quickly abandoned it, largely citing what it had come to represent - a stale, pigeonholed genre that held little long-term interest.

Emery was right alongside such bands in leaving Screamo behind, and they did it quite quickly. Their sophomore 2005 effort The Question focused much more on sonics, melody, and songwriting... and left behind almost all of the screaming. Their third release, 2007's I'm Only A Man entered more experimental territory, adding in electronics and dancehall beats (among other things).

Then came 2008's "While Broken Hearts Prevail" EP... which, if you heard it, you heard a significant shift in their sound back toward where they began.

What makes In Shallow Seas We Sail the finest record that this band has put out is the very thing that they've been largely avoiding for all these years since The Weak's End - that being the proverbial "Heavy". This is a record that starts with a rather delicious, throaty yell. The opening 30 seconds of "Cutthroat Collapse" set the stage well - covering more than a few screaming styles, and hailing in the return of a more confident, more mature Emery.  

One of the things that's allowed Emery to survive and thrive in the years since 2004 is that they have had at their disposal two extremely talented vocalists - both of whom are excellent singers and screamers. This has allowed them a great deal of flexibility and freedom both to experiment and to push themselves in ways inaccessable to most. Throughout In Shallow Seas We Sail, Both vocalists are at the peak of their craft, trading harmonies and conjuring some impressive back-and-forth intertwining lyrics and styles all throughout. In addition, the band's rediscovery of heavy musical intensity rises up to match their ever-present lyrical boldness and heightened emotional appeals. The combination of these factors, which is ultimately a culmination of the lessons and progress recorded on all of their previous albums, results in an extremely impressive, challenging, and enjoyable collection of songs.

I believe that they have finally laid to rest "The Ponytail Parades" as their magnum opus. From its subject matter to its hooks to urgent crescendo, "Inside Our Skin", is proof positive that Emery is presently in the best place they have ever been. When the song's climax hits, and you hear the appeal "WISDOM LIGHT MY WAY INTO THE DARK / WE CAN'T MAKE A CHANGE 'TIL WE KNOW WHO WE ARE", these conclusions are utterly inescapable. A close runner-up is also on this record - the incredible "Dear Death", which is split into two parts, the first quiet and sombre, the second pulsating, energetic, and impassioned.

If there's one downside to this outing, it's that Emery's lyrics often don't stray from the mold they set five years ago. Much of the album's textual content is spent on relationships, and without much in the way of insight... instead focusing largely on venting emotions and feelings that most (myself included) would associate with high-school drama. Frankly, Emery's most impacful songs are the ones where they deviate from that path - and although this record has a decent number, it would have been nice to see a wholesale shift in emphasis.

Ultimately, Emery builds on years of experience and their handful of previous releases and delivers to us their finest work to date. If it is truly In Shallow Seas We Sail, the seas are calm, the water is perfect, and the music is just right.

Standout Tracks: Inside Our Skin; The Smile, The Face; In Shallow Seas We Sail; Churches And Serial Killers; Dear Death (Parts 1 & 2).

Jerry Bolton
September 10th, 2009


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