It’s been a long time since I’ve pre-ordered an album. I’ve noticed lately that retailers carry almost no CDs these days, and I understand it’s because of the trend toward iTunes, but I just can’t justify paying full price for music that’s not full quality. But that’s another discussion. At any rate, I pre-ordered “In Shallow Seas We Sail” by Emery. Emery’s first two albums were some of my favorite ever, and their 2004 release, “The Weak’s End,” was a particularly amazing work of art. They took some chances with a different creative direction for “I Am Only a Man,” their last full-length, and I wasn’t a fan. When I heard some of the tunes on this forthcoming release, however, I could tell they had gotten back to their roots. Who can say exactly why they made the move back to their screamo foundation? No matter the reason, I’m glad to see them back atop their game.
This release is not for the faint of heart or anyone who can’t appreciate the artistic use of screaming, or for anyone who doesn’t like dynamic shifts on the order of 3-4 per song. There are quite a bit more screaming breakdowns with dissonant wreckage as the soundscape than any of their previous releases, but seemingly just as many synth-laced quiet interludes. Beautiful and poignant harmonies often carry the listener up to a ferocious breakdown, or perhaps a furious dual-vocal exchange (as in the end of “Cutthroat Collapse.”) I never get tired of complexity. To me, it’s a wonderful attribute for any music to have, giving staying power. I’ve listened to “Shallow Seas” about three times now, and every time I notice something new in almost every song. Whether it’s the complimentary piano part leading to the bridge in “Butcher’s Mouth,” or the layered vocals in “Piggy Bank Lies,” Emery are certainly good studio musicians with attention to detail. Some of it is reminiscent of “The Weak’s End,” but the guitar work doesn’t seem to be as intricate as that release (which makes sense since they since lost a bassist and now share responsibilities for that instrument). As always, the tag team of Toby and Devin on vocals both keeps things interesting and, at times, lends to the storytelling perspective. Dave even throws in some foundational double bass in the verse of “Butcher’s Mouth,” which is just the kind of innovation I love.
Topically, the album deals very much with heartbreak, relationships, and the messes that can come of them. That seems to be something I can always appreciate, even if I’m not in the midst of it. There are lots of concrete references to deception and broken promises, as well as poetic references such as “Red lights fading out/ As you drive back to your house,” painting the picture of the protagonist watching his former love drive away. It’s what Emery does best, and this album showcases their ability to capture such the gamut of emotions. “Ships don’t sink if they have wind in their sails/ But if the wind fails is there hope?”
Overall, I give it 3.5 out of 5. At times the songs can seem to harp on the same subject even a little too much for me, and two of the 13 tracks were from their previous EP, but still there are those moments that inspire me like few albums have for awhile. Furthermore, sometimes I think God drops music in front of me at just the right time. I don’t want to stretch it too far, but I’ve been needing some music like this lately for myriad reasons – processing the past and garnering inspiration, among other things. Similarly to how “Cosmos” by The Send seemed to come at just the right time, this release has spoken to me. While understanding it probably only appeals to a small demographic, I wholeheartedly recommend “In Shallow Seas We Sail,” and it will find a place somewhere in my top 20 or so albums for awhile.