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ALBUM: The Early November – ‘Imbue’
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ALBUM: The Early November – ‘Imbue’

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The general public perception of ‘emo’ has shifted so far away from what the movement originally represented that it’s easy to forget the significance of many of the genre’s less brash, populist groups.

Where subtlety and class have never been the strong points of the genre’s alleged mainstream standard bearers, they’re traits that The Early November have in spades. Having successfully returned from a six year hiatus with 2012’s career highpoint comeback record ‘In Currents’, the Ace Enders-lead quintet have retained their cult status thanks to music with miles of depth and a mature outlook closer to Manic Street Preachers than My Chemical Romance. ‘Imbue’ largely follows the example of its predecessor, and only cements the group’s deserved reputation.

More than anything, this is an album rooted in atmosphere and feeling, eschewing obvious pop sensibilities in favour of slow burning, unpredictable but melodic compositions. The guitars are drenched in reverb and cascade over understated rhythms, Enders’ velvet croon the cherry on the rich, rich cake. ‘Imbue’ largely sticks to this formula but there’s ample room for twists, such as the topsy-turvy lead riff that introduces ‘Cyanide’ and the cheerier, borderline pop punk feel of ‘The Negatives’. A rerecorded version of ‘Digital Age’ features a lush new arrangement but loses the distinctiveness of its original incarnation, though it fits perfectly with the new material. Songs often evolve into unorthodox conclusions rather than returning to their choruses, many of which glide rather than soar.

The first two songs are notable exceptions, holding a big room feel lacking from the rest of the record aside from appropriately grand denouement ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, resurrecting the arena rock shades of the album’s start. For the bulk of the record, the clearest deficiency is a lack of occasion to proceedings. ‘Imbue’ is an album made up of songs that tickle the taste buds delectably, but rarely hit the listener in the face with brilliant flavor. Subtlety is thereby both a great strength and weakness for The Early November, although the smooth as silk production pushes it towards the former. The highly personal lyrics are the other area that may put some off, jarring at times such as on ‘Boxing Timelines’ – they’re rarely silly, but clunk at times when they intend to entertain.

It’s difficult to see long-time fans of The Early November being disappointed in ‘Imbue’ (although it’s not quite of the same quality as its immediate predecessor), but on the other side of the coin it’s unlikely to convince those not interested in the group to change their minds. Ace Enders is a very good songwriter and his band can produce textures that add much to his compositions. Their gradually developed maturity has added something to their repertoire that goes someway to compensate for an entirely understandable drop in youthful energies, and if you put atmosphere and heartfelt sentiment over instant gratification this may be the album for you.