Reunion records are a tricky business. On one hand, fans are simply excited to hear new material from the reunited group, whether they’ve been apart for only a few years, or a much longer time period. On the other hand, the disbanding of a group can lead to a change in musical philosophy amongst the various members, resulting in a very different product upon return. All you need to do is look at Blink 182’s “Neighborhoods” for an example of both viewpoints.
This of course brings us to The Early November. Following an indefinite hiatus announced in 2007, the longtime pop-rock standouts began their reunion with a set of shows. Eventually, the success of those shows would prompt a return to recording, leading to the brand new full length, entitled “In Currents.” So where does The Early November’s record stand on the spectrum of reunion material? Well, fans should certainly be excited to hear the newest tracks from the band, considering it’s their best work yet, but you’ll also notice some slight changes in philosophy, which mostly leads to a more focused approach to song writing. It’s the best of both worlds.
The record begins with “A Stain On The Carpet,” an excellent intro-track which highlights the powerful pipes of Ace Enders, while also establishing a bittersweet lyrical theme. Enders carries the track for over half its running time, until eventually he’s backed by a full band just past the 2-minute mark. With the instrumental support, the frontman belts out, “I spilled red wine on the carpet/Letting in sink in deep for days/So if you ever fall into dementia/It won’t let you forget.” They follow that up with “Frayed In Doubt,” another standout which has every member of the band cranking it up a notch. Enders’ voice dances a fine line in the chorus, bouncing between a scream and howl, as Jeff Kummer puts in some of his best work to date on the drums. The transition between the bridge and chorus are especially memorable with the ting of a cymbal signaling an explosion of sound.
“Tell Me Why” is a track which reminds you of Ace Enders & A Million Different People, featuring a simple chorus tailor made for a sing-a-along. Enders asks, “Tell me why you left/Tell me where you went/Tell me why/Am I worth the time,” before finishing with “Just like wind you’re gone/Leaving me breathless and alone.” As with their past material, the lyrics aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, but the passionate delivery from Enders saves the lines from becoming duds. “Close To You” and “Guilt & Swell” are more of your typical pop-rock fare, enjoyable but nothing you haven’t experienced before in their past material.
The real gems begin toward the end of the tracklisting, starting with the one-two punch of “That’s Not Your Real Name” and “Like A Kid.” The first, featuring just Enders and an acoustic guitar, has the frontman straining as he sings, “Wake up you’re faking/I know that you’re laying awake,” in yet another bittersweet track. The song, despite being its own entity, plays almost like an intro to “Like A Kid,” with the transition between nearly tricking you into believing it’s one song. Solid work from guitarists Bill Lugg, Joe Marro and Sergio Anello anchor the track, which carries the biggest and most enjoyable hook on the album.
The record finishes off on a great note with “Call Off The Bells” showcasing a different, yet unique, side of the band. Instead of pounding percussion and shredding guitars, we get the snaps of their fingers and some interesting vocal overlays found in the nearly a capella chorus. The lyrics cap off the theme present throughout the entire album, as Enders sings “You said call off all of the wedding bells I need a little more time.” The song then finishes with a duet between Enders and his wife, Jennifer, as they combine to sing, “Once upon a time/We were meant to be.” As perfectly described in the final track, every mention of happiness present in the songwriting is combined with the slightest hint of sadness. The balance makes for an emotional rollercoaster, which Enders portrays perfectly with his fragile, vulnerable voice.
Sound Quality: Unfortunately, the least impressive aspect of the vinyl release is the sound quality, which seems compressed and simply put: rough. It’s one of the few cases where I’ve preferred digital over vinyl and I actually had to spin another record to make sure the problems weren’t with the record player itself. Now, some of the issues I have with the sound are due to production, which at times mixes a home-recorded sound with the studio, but they also didn’t use the format to its fullest. In particular, the title track features a rough vocal mix, possibly recorded that way (of course that doesn’t excuse its poor quality). A song like “Digital Age” is more suited to that vocal style, considering the subject matter Enders is tackling. You also had a good amount of surface noise affecting the overall product, which again seems like it was part of the recording process. So I guess my question is: Why record a pop-rock record in this manner? Wouldn’t a crisper sound have led to a better product? And a little disclaimer, I didn’t purchase the 180-gram black vinyl, since it only came with the deluxe bundle. I’m reviewing the sound on what’s called the coke bottle green vinyl, which was limited to 700.
Packaging: Rise Records makes up a little for the sound quality deficiencies with a nice packaging job, led by a gatefold jacket. It’s always encouraging to see a label use a gatefold for a single LP, especially when it’s a larger release in their catalog. The lyrics are printed on the inside of the jacket, which makes the album easy to follow along with, while the other inside panel features a design that matches up with the cover art. The pressing on coke bottle green vinyl is a thing of beauty, with some slight white marbling perfectly accenting the main color. The super deluxe bundle is also worth mentioning, as it features a 100-page photo book, which serves as the packaging for the 180-gram black vinyl version. All books are signed by the band, while the package also featured the deluxe CD/DVD combo, two posters and a T-shirt. So for big time fans, the label definitely took care of you with a package that is worth your purchase. Now, only if they made those photo books and 180-gram vinyl available for individual purchase!
Extras: A digital download is included. No CD is included.
Summary: With The Early November’s first record in six years, the band has managed to create its best work to date. Every member, including frontman Ace Enders, puts in solid work, constructing an album which manages to balance the pop-rock sound with a lyrical vulnerability that few can truly achieve. While the packaging from Rise Records is solid in every way, the sound quality leaves much to be desired, especially in terms of the vocal mix.
Make Sure To Spin: “Frayed In Doubt,” “That’s Not Your Real Name,” “Like A Kid” and “Call Off The Bells.”
You can still purchase the album at Amazon.