It has been a few years since we’ve heard anything from Copeland. Two years after their fourth studio album, You Are My Sunshine, the band decided to call it a day, saying goodbye with a farewell tour in 2010. Copeland’s work has always pushed further than that of their fellow emo and indie rock peers. With each album, we were able to see the group evolve and test their abilities in new and exciting ways. In early 2014, the group reunited to create Ixora. Even after a four-year hiatus, Aaron Marsh and company still have what it takes to write a harrowing, compelling record.
Over the course of their career, Copeland has steadily grown from the typical rock structure. Each subsequent release veered further and further away from guitar,drum, and bass dependence, working with a wide variety of musical elements and song structures. It was difficult to gauge what the band’s reunion would spell for their sound — a sound that had grown more and more unpredictable as the years went on.
This flexibility is what defined the band, and, if anything, time here has proven to be the band’s friend in this camp. Their vision is equal parts concise as it is innovative. While it is rooted in their later albums, this record possesses many ambient and modern influences that make it distinct from their previous work. If the standout second track “Disjointed” is any indication, it is all very much Copeland, which is the most important piece of it all. Old fans will be more than happy to hear what tricks the band looked to pull off on this record.
These challenges carry over to the record’s emotional tone. It isn’t rooted in pessimism or optimism. Rather it is neatly nestled between the two, somewhat ambiguous in a way. Ixora has this sense of charisma to it that forces the listener to look inwards and really take the songs to heart. There is a wax and wane between happiness and sadness, and this can shift from song to song, even from listen to listen. The acoustic opener “Have I Always Loved You?” can be beautiful or bittersweet, the down tempo rhythms of “Like a Lie” shift from indifferent to dark, and the orchestra of the closer, “In Her Arms You Will Never Starve”, can make Marsh’s repeated refrain of “what if you can’t turn back”, either distinctly majestic or completely heartbreaking. With every spin of Ixora, there is a fluid aspect to its emotional core. These things aren’t set in stone, rising and falling as the listener wishes, just as it does in life itself.
Sitting halfway through the record, “Ordinary” provides a point of balance for Ixora, aesthetically and emotionally. It consists of nothing more than a piano, a few ambient sounds, and Aaron Marsh’s haunting voice. He sings of a seemingly mundane day, making “work in the nick of time” after sleeping a little too late, as his life with his lover grows increasingly ordinary. Depending on how you listen to it, Marsh’s words of “I kiss you like the day before/And I hold you just like ordinary” can feel romantic or melancholy with alternating listens. It is deliberately unclear, forcing the listener to take it how he or she pleases.
Assuming most people listening to this record are returning Copeland fans, Ixora is what you would expect from a Copeland reunion. It certainly does not disappoint, but familiarity is where some may feel the record falls a little short. Formed in 2001, the Copeland’s returning fan base is certainly older than many of the other emo/indie rock bands that are popular today. If Ixora is any indication, the band’s style has matured with its fans. This isn’t a record for teenagers looking for an escape from their troubles, it’s for people trying to figure out what they’re all about, unsure of what the future entails. Fans of the group’s previous work will be able to appreciate the mature and dynamic nature of this album, but it may take a little effort for new fans to truly understand what it’s all about.
Amidst the emo/pop punk explosion of the late-90s/early-00s, Copeland somehow found a way to emerge as one of the prominent groups of the era. While gaining nothing more than a cult following, the band defined the era of The Militia Group. They were not afraid to take risks with their music that other artists at the time were either afraid or unwilling to take. Despite their breakup in 2010, the band has returned to the scene in full form with Ixora. An introspective record, Ixora’s atmospheric sound lends well to its musical ambitions and ambiguous emotional tone. While new fans may find it tough to appreciate what this band is all about, returning fans are sure to be satisfied by what this album has to offer.