By Cole Faulkner
For those who have been around the block a few times, The Early November will forever symbolize the best of Drive Thru Records. The long since defunct label became a breeding ground for creative, melancholy pop-punk with personality. Although the biggest commercial successes came from New Found Glory and Hellogoodbye, the iconic voice of Ace Enders left the most lasting associative mark on this reviewer. He struck an unmistakable balance between soft expression and genuine emotion that few mid-00’s emo groups ever achieved (most were content to take the easy way out and emulate Taking Back Sunday).
After a brief hiatus in which Enders explored his craft through various other collaborations and side projects, The Early November reunited and continued along their way with the well received comeback album, In Currents. Skip forward three years and the band is back at it with the latest extension of their sound with Imbue. While Enders has evolved along with his various other acts, The Early November retains that quintessential Drive Thru Records stamp. In a world where everyone is constantly moving forward, it’s unexpectedly satisfying to take a breath and enjoy a tasteful dose of days gone by.
Now, The Early November’s familiar tone shouldn’t be confused with mere nostalgia. Ender’s fragile confidence and heartfelt culmination of lightly laced piano rock remains as emotionally in tune as ever – it simply won’t be drawing the same young crowd as it did back in 2006 during their stint on the Vans Warped Tour. A sensitive, mid-tempo track like “Magnolia” speaks to the psychological scars that linger from a lifetime of former high-school woes but with the wisdom of maturity. Ender’s pointed, syllable specific articulation remains one of the best benchmarks of the aging scene, infusing every bit as much emotion through his sensitive tone as more visceral acts. A song like “Circulation” or “Cyanide,” with a backdrop of loose, twinkling partially disjoined jangles even hints at an appreciation for downtrodden moments of post-punk acts like Dikembe. Even so, the strongest moments remain rooted in the mumbled whispers of far flung verse of those like “The Negatives” and “Harmony.”
Of course the band endeavors to counter Imbue’s wholly somber tone with periods of skyward reaching yelps. They often emerge during the chorus of initially delicate leads-ins such as “I Don’t Care.” Crackling, classically emo shouts flare as razoring guitars rush into the fray. It takes a while for some of these sonic highs to really pan out, but by the time album closer “Nothing Lasts Forever” races along, the balance of noodly guitars and crunchy riffs reaches optimal balance. Curiously, it remains the contrasted moments of vocal regress within harder songs that remain the most emblematic of The Early November’s deeply personal approach. They encounter the most difficulty when straying into big guitar territory for too long, ending up with songs like “Boxing Timelines” which are reminiscent of a less flattering Something Corporate.
Considering their hiatus and return to form, The Early November has aged remarkably well. Even with comparing them to more contemporary and relevant soft-spoken acts like Sorority Noise or Kittyhawk, the sense of decade-old nostalgia supersedes comparison and plants The Early November in the welcoming light of homecoming. While the young, loyal crowd of the Rise Records faithful may find similar enjoyment to that of labelmates Transit, it’s the older crowd of late twenty-somethings that stand to gain the most from Imbue – and that’s just fine for us.