Sound — 7
Pop-rock/post-hardcore hybrids have always been a bit of a hit-or-miss thing for me. Bands like Coheed and Cambria and The Dear Hunter have absolutely perfected the formula before taking it beyond into the realm of progressive rock, while other bands that generally fit into the mold usually get lumped under the "screamo" label and are usually rather bland listens.
Emarosa, now four albums into their career, seem to be flirting with the pop side of things more on their most recent album, "131." Vocally, the album has very strong connections to the modern pop-rock scene, while the musicians opt for a very mid-2000s screamo-esque sound. Reverb-drenched lead guitar lines snake their way through nearly all of the songs, played by one of the band's two only consistent members, ER White. Newcomer Marcellus Wallace strums his way competently through the album as rhythm guitarist, while even newer members Ryan Keinle and Connor Denis hold the fort as bassist and drummer, respectively. Jordan Stewart, the band's only other long-term member, adds textures with his keyboard playing, laying the foundation for vocalist Bradley Walden.
While there are shades of many different post-hardcore and pop-rock bands throughout the album, I find myself only really drawing a direct comparison on the song "Miracle," which sounds very similar to something The Dear Hunter would create. Now, this is definitely my favourite song on the album, hands-down. It has an excellent intro guitar melody, a really compelling chord progression that sounds vaguely like some kind of Spanish guitar style, and some excellent musicianship and vocal work. And many of the songs have elements that stand on their own quite well, like the a capella intro on "Hurt," which opens the album, and the really good chorus on the decidedly Thursday-meets-Coheed "One Car Garage." The album closer, "Re," is a beautiful and epic track with lots of great clean guitar parts and excellent vocal work.
Overall, though, it feels like the album never really aspires to much more than just wearing its influences on its sleeve, and it does seem a bit difficult to listen to in one sitting, just from not really being able to hold my attention for very long. Individually, many of the songs are good enough to warrant a listen, but it doesn't seem to hold my attention for very long as a whole.
The production on this record, handled by Casey Bates, whose work I enjoyed on The Fall Of Troy's "Phantom on the Horizon," is good as well, with lots of clear definition between the instruments on the record. His work with the vocals also sounds very natural, a rarity in this day and age.
Lyrics — 5
In keeping with the genre convention, the lyrics on this album cover, to put it quite basically, depression. There's not one track on this album that doesn't sound melodramatic about anything from lost love, loneliness, living with past demons, and self-esteem issues. Only "Porcelain" seems to have more of a heartfelt "love song" atmosphere about it. The lyrics seem to try to come off as dark at times, but for the most part, just seem to echo the melodrama of past screamo bands, and kind of come off as rather cheesy. If you're looking to actually enjoy this album, ignoring the lyrics is probably your best bet.
That said, Bradley Walden is a pretty decent vocalist. While he does evoke a lot of modern pop singers, he seems to have a fairly decent, genuine talent. His clear vocals have a rather impressive amount of range, which he uses on a lot of the songs. There are also a lot of great vocal harmonies throughout the record. But a strong vocal performance can't really save the lyrics from being particularly bad on this record.
Overall Impression — 6
Instrumentally speaking, "131" is actually a very decent record. The musicianship is quite good, the songs are quite well-crafted, Bradley's vocal skills are quite good... but it does feel a bit like this album is missing a few of the things that make for a good album. Aside from "Miracle" and "Re," there aren't really any other standout tracks. The band goes too far to wear their influences on their sleeve that it's hard to imagine them doing anything that sounds truly original. Even though they are quite good at what they do, what they do isn't really all that great to begin with.
That said, for folks who were fans of the screamo style of post-hardcore, this album will probably bring back some memories of the mid-2000s (though this album does lack one ingredient from screamo, the harsh vocals). And if you're listening for anything but lyrics or musical originality, this can actually be a pretty good record to take out for a spin.
It seems a shame that this band's lyrics are a bit stale and overly melodramatic, because there's a lot of potential for this band to revitalize their scene. If post-hardcore mixed with pop-rock is something you're not interested in, this is not an album that's going to change your mind, though there are a couple of really decent songs worth checking out. If you're going to spin one song from this record, make it "Miracle," which is a surprisingly excellent song from a pool of otherwise kind of just okay songs.