Perhaps one of the more humble faces in the emo singer-songwriter scene is Koji. In some ways punk and in others indie, Koji’s musicianship follows paths in both intimate acoustic work and polished full band tunes, but his rise can be partially attributed to his eclectic identity. From splits and tours with a wide range of punk and emo artists (La Dispute, Into It. Over It., Title Fight, etc.), solo EPs, a full-length, and work with a wide range of advocacy and charitable groups, including one he founded himself, Koji is a bit of a renaissance artist. He finds himself back in his musical groove on his latest EP, Fury. While effective in showing off his ability to write quality music, there are shades of untapped potential here on this limited EP.
With the help of Will Yip, who produced Koji’s 2013 full-length, Crooked in My Mind, Fury is a short EP. At four songs and 13 minutes long, it shows off Koji’s ability to craft full-band songs. While he has had a band behind him for much of his career, this EP was constructed with the intention to emulate classic 90’s indie rock/emo vibes, and has a little more of an alternative rock polish to it. The EP feels like Third Eye Blind or Dashboard Confessional in essence. Despite these stylistic muses, Koji’s vocal register isn’t driven towards the emphatic musical moments that these bands trend towards. He doesn’t jump too far from his comfort zone vocally, and the songs behind him don’t either, making for a sonically consistent listen from start to finish.
The EP can be summed up to the end of a few lines in “Breaking and Broken”. In a mid-tempo indie take that starts with dark and dense guitar strums, leading into a slowly building anti-chorus, the refrain of “everybody’s shouting/conversation’s much too loud/and I’m dyin’ inside” hits over and over again through the course of the song. These four songs aren’t Koji’s intimate acoustic numbers or fast-paced emo songs, or even the deviating middle ground he treaded on Crooked in My Mind. Instead, they are the result of a goal set forth by Koji, to produce an EP of 90’s-inspired indie rock songs, a different direction than his work in the past. Amidst all the expectations, excitement, and hectic lifestyle that results from being a musician, Fury focuses on a singular goal, and achieving that goal for his own sake, rather than for those talking at him left and right.
On the opener, “Fury”, Koji alludes to the talking voices that berate busy lives time and time again. The varying degrees of fury that exist all seem to be “in my [his] head”, as he ponders whether or not he’s found “a new normal” of panic to get used to. It is perhaps these moving parts that brought the throwback vision behind this EP, one of simplicity and emulation of those that came before. The first two songs being fairly straightforward, the alterna-country twangs of “Everyday” are a welcome challenge to Koji’s traditional emo/indie rock tendencies. The twang behind the guitar melody and denser percussive pattern lend well to the two minute diddy, which would find itself well placed on a full-length record.
With such a steadfast mission, it’s fair to expect consistent output on Fury, and that is what we get. We get good stuff from Koji, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially on an EP the size of Fury. However, the songs may be good, but they seem to tread on the generic territory. Each one feels like a product of the last, constructed with an ear of someone who knows how to do this sound right. It’d be one thing to wish that he’d stretched this EP into a full-length that covers all of his performing bases, but if IIOI/KOJI and Matters were any indication, Koji can produce 4 or 5 good songs into a package that’s great and effective. Even songs of more or less the same style can hold their own on short releases. Fury is a good EP, but there’s a part of me that wants it to be even better. I don’t know if that is because of my expectations of Koji, or if his EP satisfies those expectations, but has the ability to exceed them. It’s certainly an entertaining release, but one that could’ve been blown up to a strong album filled with a variety and breadth that this EP has trouble finding in four songs and 13 minutes.