Crate-Digging: The Eastern Wave – All Covet, All Lose

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

(self released, 2009)

How do the emo kids grow up? Embrace goth culture, slap on some guyliner, dress all in black? Turn inward, recite Rimbaud at will, cloak vocals in reverb? That’s what it sounds like the members of St. Augustine, Florida’s, The Eastern Wave did, with their first full-length release – after a lineup reshuffling and name change from En Masse – distancing itself from the band’s heavy, heart-on-sleeve forebears. (And OK, they don’t dress all in black.) Honestly, the proof is in the lineage: frontman Jake Brown used to play with DC post-hardcore vets Decahedron, as well as poorly named Florida emotives Moments in Grace and Twothirtyeight. Exhaustra, City of Ships, Onslaught Dynamo, Liquid Limbs, All the Ghosts, Further Seems Forever, and Strongarm figure into the band’s lineage as well – and I’ve even heard of the latter two! That’s quite a self-righteous, emotional bunch, if you ask me. And if you’re wondering why I’ve already used three derivations of the adjective emo, wonder no more: if these bands do nothing else right, they certainly know how to convey the naked feelings of whiny boys to the tune of loud guitars.

But let me pause and gather myself, because no matter how down I get on emo as a genre (and lest we forget that I was once into the emo scene), it has its merits, and has in fact produced a few great bands, albums, and songs, as well as provided a gateway to styles as diverse as math rock, post rock, hardcore, synth pop, etc. The case for: Much like Wesley Eisold (formerly of hardcore heavy hitters Some Girls, Give Up the Ghost, and American Nightmare) traded in screaming and thrash for synth bleats and chilled-out mope pop in his Cold Cave project, The Eastern Wave, despite its pedigree, has itself similarly transcended … itself. Although the reach is not so great – the stylistic chasm between Some Girls and Cold Cave is vast – the density and delivery of the standard emo band expected here is spread out: the instruments breathe, guitars and vocals are drenched in reverb, the drums are crisply recorded, keyboards add texture. The vocals are also, for the most part, mixed low, which cloaks the album in a bit more mystery, and obscures the lyrics in many places. Which, for the ex-emo, is probably a good thing.

So the good: the album starts promisingly enough with slow moper “Chapter 1: Antidote” (please don’t ask why the tracks all have a chapter number, I have no idea), setting the tone that this album is going to be a dark and brooding affair. And the band delivers on that promise, as tracks such as “Chapter 4: The Last One to Leave,” “Chapter 6: Let Down,” and “Chapter 8: The Voyeur” explore the depths of Jake Brown’s obsessions. The album closes with “Chapter 10: Mind Like a Museum,” the most textured piece on the album, coated in synthesizers – it’s a great companion piece/bookend to “Chapter 1: Antidote.”

Of course there’s a flipside, and any time you attempt to switch up genres, you risk turning your sound into a caricature. Which is why, when the guitars and vocals really burst out from the background, as they do on “Chapter 2: Had My Shot,” “Chapter 3: Condition: Negative,” and “Chapter 9: The Road to Awe,” the band, instead of crafting an intense, fertile sound, comes across like a half-speed Stabbing Westward, without any real good beats or industrial touchstones. (And let’s face it – that’s actually also a criticism of Stabbing Westward themselves.) Moreover, even though there are some good, creeping moments in the slower numbers, the pace of each song rarely changes. We’re left with one plodding moment after another, and by the end of the record, there’s no real need to go back.

The band has made the record available for download from their bandcamp page, absolutely free of charge: http://theeasternwave.bandcamp.com/. Check the RIYL below – if any of that interests you, go ahead and click on that “Free Download” button on the page.

RIYL: A Northern Chorus, Fulton Lights, Adore-era Smashing Pumpkins, but not nearly as good as any of these things.

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