We’re the reason Emarosa etched a combative title to their comeback record. We’re pretentious, prejudiced listeners who think we know best. Though tastes, trends, members and genres have come and gone in the band’s four-year absence, our unfair expectations and nostalgic values put us at risk of missing the entire point of Versus. Should we get out of our own way, we’ll all come to a similar conclusion: Versus is the most enjoyable and eclectic record of Emarosa’s enjoyable and eclectic career.
That’s not to say the past isn’t well-represented; in many ways, Versus is the linear transition from where the band left off. Opener “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play” and “American Deja Vu” pass the torch well, offering modernized takes on the sound that made self-titled excel. Plenty of Versus’ tracks fit the familiar structure: musicianship a few years removed from post-hardcore, built to catapult huge vocal runs. It’s a code that Emarosa’s musicians have always performed well, and Versus is no exception.
And huge vocal runs? They’re plentiful, though more tastefully-executed. New vocalist Bradley Walden delivers stunning, Idol-esque runs without sacrificing control or songwriting. Those wails in the chorus of “Mad” and the second verse of “People Like Me…” hit hard thanks to better builds and stronger composition. Where Relativity and self-titled put out fires with gasoline, Versus lets flames build and extinguish, offering different looks and changing perspectives. Softer cuts like the Top 40-ready “I’ll Just Wait” and “Same Tight Rope” weren’t in the band’s 2010 repertoire, but flow effortlessly between harder takes. The balance feels almost Paramorian at times, akin to Brand New Eyes’ distribution of heavy hitters and quieter tunes. It’s certainly a shift for Emarosa, but one the band accomplishes quite nicely.
While the aforementioned album dynamics cement Versus for repeat listens, the record’s full of highlights as bright as they are personal. Walden’s vulnerability and lyrical themes add an accessibility never heard from Emarosa. Take closer/stand-out “1996 on Bevard” and its chorus – “afraid I’ll be my father and fade away / afraid I’ll be forgotten, but I can’t change” – not revolutionary, but certainly heartfelt and relatable. That welcoming, personal touch is frequent throughout the record and strongest in sing-alongs, making for anthemic moments sure to move crowds.
But most importantly, Versus is thoroughly enjoyable. It’s a fun album that jumps to unexpected places while never straying too far from what we loved about Emarosa. It’s a record that stretched the band and tested their relevancy, which proved to be future-proof. It’s just as pleasurable for old fans as it is new audiences..regardless of the who, when, or why, Versus is a pleasant surprise, a fitting return, and the most complete album of Emarosa’s catalog.