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Emery, I’m Only A Man

In a sea of emo/post-hardcore bands that all sound the same, Emery stands out. However, the highly anticipated release of the band’s third studio album I’m Only A Man on Oct. 2 disappointed many listeners. Known for dynamic vocals and powerful lyrics and drumbeats, Seattle-based Emery sought to be slightly more experimental and grown up on its new album. Unfortunately, the band simply ended up with an album that tries too hard.

Gone are the screaming vocals that added phenomenal contrast to the music. Such passion has been replaced by poppy riffs and experimental instrumentation. I’m Only A Man is freckled with a few mediocre songs, barely reminiscent of sweeping-melodies-and-guitar-riffs Emery we used to know, but these pale in comparison to much of the band’s old music. The new album also features synthesizers, which the band has used before, but not so prominently; Emery uses synthesizes in the forefront, often channeling the band Shiny Toy Guns.

What results is a stylistically scattered album. Many of the songs are in stark contrast to the ones surrounding it. The first two tracks show promise but the rest of the album falls flat. By track three, “World Away,” it sounds like a different band stepped in to play. “Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus,” is similar in that respect, though more successful overall; the song opens strong, but the chorus has an electronic feel, complete with clapped beats; the end of the song brings back the screaming that Emery fans have cherished in the past. In either case, both “World Away” and “Don’t Bore Us, Get to the Chorus” could easily be parts of a Panic! At the Disco song.

Another song, “As the Devil Beats His Wife,” is an attempt to be more experimental, involving what sounds like a mandolin. The effect is decent, though still missing that Emery flair — lead singer Tony Morelle’s powerfully overlapping melodic vocals coupled with guitarist Devon Shelton’s screaming. Of course, nothing could ever compare with the opener, “Walls,” on Emery’s 2004 debut The Weak’s End; the song opens with two verses screamed rather than sung, waking up the reader with the electrifying opening line, “Are you listening?”

On the other end of the spectrum, “What Makes A Man A Man” opens in an acoustic Coldplay-esque style, then picks up with powerful piano and drumming, similar to “In a Win, Win Situation”, from Emery’s phenomenal sophomore album, 2005’s The Question. Overall, though, Emery’s new album is lacking; all fans can do is listen to the older albums and try to remember what the band used to be. I’m Only a Man might be a catchy title, but it’s no excuse for a letdown of an album.

Radiohead, In Rainbows

Let’s suppose, for a moment, that your average Radiohead album looks something like a New York Yankees roster: A few tracks are headed for “legendary” status; some others are due to be minor successes, nothing to be studied in music history classes in 2050; and one or two tracks, sadly, can’t compare to the Goliaths. But Radiohead wouldn’t be Radiohead if not for the fact that the benchwarmer tracks on a Radiohead album would be the Alex Rodriguez tracks for any other band out there.

On Oct. 1, the Oxfordshire-based quintet announced that it would be releasing its seventh LP, In Rainbows, in just 10 days — no marketing campaigns, not even a record label to put the CD out and distribute it. Radiohead instead announced that not only would the album be available exclusively for download on the band’s website, but fans could pay whatever they wanted for it. Doesn’t sound like a George Steinbrenner move, does it?

The music doesn’t sound much like Radiohead’s older powerhouse releases, either. There’s no hit on In Rainbows, but there’s certainly no filler. “Don’t get any big ideas — they’re not going to happen,” leader singer Thom Yorke sings in “Nude.” The song is exactly that: a stripped down tune with a bouncy, Paul McCartney-meets-Bootsy Collins bass line and a 12/8 blues shuffle underneath. On “Faust Arp,” the signature skips back and forth between 8/8 and 9/8 as strings flutter in and out between acoustic guitar patterns that a young Bob Dylan might have strummed. “15 Step” sounds like a Radiohead track from 2003’s Hail To The Thief, with a crunchy, synthesized drumbeat in 5/4.

Every song on In Rainbows has something that keeps your mouth watering like a dog in Pavlov’s experiments, but no song is the full bowl of Purina you were craving. “Reckoner” opens like a firecracker, with drummer Phil Selway beating out a line that’s got a syncopated snare drum pattern and piercing ride cymbal jabs. And just when you think this is the next Goliath Derek Jeter track, a thick series of major chords comes trickling out of an electric guitar. It takes a more ethereal route, rather than the stadium rocker route the listener expected.

The other noticeable change on In Rainbows is producer Nigel Godrich’s hands-off approach. Legendary for fabulous sound effects and plush musical textures, Godrich is impossibly raw on this new record. But, when he’s on, he’s on. “Videotape” begins like The Beatles song “Sexy Sadie,” with an eerily depressing piano line. As vocal harmonies get thicker and the synthesizers thicken the mix, a rolling drum line creeps in. At first it’s a thwack; then a drum roll; then, after a minute or two, it’s a sweeping, barreling, percussive wall of sound. It’s the perfect In Rainbows moment: The melody is sparse, the piano line is steady and simple, the bass is adding healthy fat, and it all comes together into one amazing, five-minute track.

Sure, there’s no climactic moment in the song. And for that matter, there’s no climactic song on the album. But that’s exactly why In Rainbows is so amazing; it’s a group of tracks that sound good and feel good, altogether contributing to a beautiful moment in music that transcends industry executives, high studio budgets, and flashy technology. Sounds more like the New York Mets to me.