In 2005, The Early November was two years removed from its debut full-length, The Room’s Too Cold. While the record, along with band’s earlier EP, For All of This, garnered them attention as members of the Drive-Thru Records “movement”, frontman Ace Enders wanted to take things in a brand new direction. Fresh off of his debut effort with I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business, Enders and The Early November began work on a triple-disc record. Due to a number of creative shifts, and the overall stress of essentially producing three albums, one “rock”, one “unplugged”, and one a thorough audio theatre, the record didn’t come out until the summer of 2006. The Mother, the Mechanic and the Path was more or less a success, but the ambition behind three different albums may have shown itself as a lack of focus.
Perhaps, the band could’ve kept itself alive beyond two albums and an EP, but had burned itself out too quickly. In the years following their “indefinite hiatus” in 2007, the group’s five members found ways to fulfill their creativity by way of side projects and other musical pursuits. Since their reunion in 2011, the band seems to have recovered the creative juices that may have exhausted themselves about a decade ago. Ten years after starting work on an ambitious triple album, The Early November has a new record on the table. The band’s fourth full-length, and second in their post-reunion era, Imbue, shows an ambitious group of musicians honing themselves in a focused, concerted, and mature effort.
When the group formed in 2001, the quintet managed to capitalize on the hype of the pop punk/emo storm that dominated the scene at the time. 14 years later, the pop punk/emo scene has digressed far from the point it reached in the early 2000s. Since their reunion, The Early November’s focus is not one of nostalgia, but driven towards a present day sound. Rather than borrow from acoustic takes like “Ever So Sweet” and “Digital Age”, Imbue is ten, straightforward rock songs. There is no filler or dip in energy here, as the quintet gives it their all from beginning to end.
The opening guitar riffs of “Narrow Mouth” are airy yet apprehensive, with the band withholding full force until they kick in to the sound of Enders’ shout of “You gotta get something right”, leading into a towering chorus led by a smashing of guitar and throaty vocals. While there is certainly a sense of energy and charisma, the record is not urgent or tense in tone. “Boxing Timelines” shifts from an easy-going guitar line and slow-rolling lyrics, to a driving drum backing and a rapid-fire recollection of “the forgotten smiles” and “obnoxious laughs”, as a lust for youth comes through in full force, but never attacks the listener with nostalgia or overt emotion.
While takes like “Better This Way” and “I Don’t Care” tread the line of empowering pop punk for adults, others are tailored to a new phase in the career of The Early November. “Harmony” meshes pieces of Circa Survive and newer Copeland, filled with spacey, twinkly sounds, thorough percussion, and Enders drawing into his higher vocal range. The third track, “Magnolia”, seems to pay tribute to Turnover and their high octane brand of emo, but it feels right in place as output by The Early November. It’s possible that the band would not have made such a seemingly subtle creative risk a few years back, but it is as if the group has taken heed from the musical growth around them, and emanated it within their own sound.
Enders and company have seen a lot in the way of musical evolution, both in their own projects, and in the music of those around them, throughout their careers. Just like any open-minded musician, these ideas have filtered through the collective conscience of The Early November, in such a way that it is distinct and memorable. On Imbue, they don’t try to recreate the magic of any solo project or work of a colleague. Rather, they are looking to the maturity, sonic diversity, and aesthetic shifts that have taken over the pop punk and emo scene over the course of their career as musicians. It isn’t 2003, where angst-ridden lyrics and an ability to identify with brokenhearted teenagers is first priority. Instead, the priority is looking to the different creative trends in the scene, and finding ways to incorporate them in a way that is distinct to The Early November. With that, we get a record that is consistent from start-to-finish, concise and precise in its execution of mature and forward-thinking emo music, if there was ever such a thing.