Val Emmich won’t slow down despite his album title inferring that he might need some adult doses of Ritalin to keep him calm. With comparisons ranging from Dave Matthews to a young and impressionable Joe Jackson, Emmich caught the eyes and ears of some people and critics with the tune “Privacy Attracts a Crowd”. He even became the first unsigned artist to show his mug on MTV’s “Total Request Live” (“TRL” for those abbreviation-correct folks). His first album, as is often the case with many artists, is basically all those pent up years listening to everything and fusing it into some semblance of a series of well-crafted songs. Emmich has managed to do that in less than 40 minutes, which is no mean feat in itself.
The album opens with “Medical Display”, a song that is part Pete Yorn and part Morrissey if backed by any power punk band worth their sonic salt. Starting off in a low-energy frame of mind, Emmich kicks out of first gear straight into third or fourth for the powerful, Lifehouse-like chorus and bridge. “Our exchange won’t bring any understanding”, he says, before hitting paydirt thanks to drummer Atom Willard on the skins. The only miscue is his brief series of scream-tinged lyrics near the homestretch, forcing the issue to the song’s detriment. It’s forgivable when he returns to his strengths and fleshes out the song solidly. “Bury Me” is less lethargic in its start, bringing to mind Jimmy Eat World’s fine attention to melody and rock chops. Here Emmich nails both vocals and guitars, as the rhythm section is extremely airtight. “I could care less if I run out of air”, Emmich sings, before tearing into the meaty chorus.
Perhaps the greatest complement Emmich can receive with this album is that he wrote every damn one of the songs all by his lonesome! And they are often lyrics that far belie his 25 years. The mid-tempo pop nugget “Privacy Attracts a Crowd” is a perfect example as he sings about how “everybody wants to see what’s behind a mystery”, before dropping the tone down a notch or two. This seems to be taken out of the songbook of John Mellencamp or some other noted roots rocker, as Emmich rides the melody again and again. Some might think of the Calling with this tune, but there is too much substance and soul here to make it a worthwhile comparison. The first track that has you scratching your head is “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”, which has Emmich all over the place both musically and vocally. It’s somewhat disappointing given the strength of the first three tracks, evoking images of a mediocre Def Leppard ballad at best.
“Separate Things” reverts to what works with Emmich, keeping it simple for all the stupid and highbrow pop rock fans out there. If you could picture Dave Grohl and his Foo Fighters opting for an acoustic or roots rock slant to their music, you would instantly get the picture on this catchy and pleasing track. It just could be the highlight of the album, despite clocking in at just over three minutes and change. “Shock” comes as a bit of a shock with the lines “You’re supposed to be my friend / Don’t lie to me / Just turn and walk away / I could punch your fucking face”, in a style that Adam Duritz and his Counting Crows comrades would churn out if somebody peed in their cornflakes. “The Patient Patient” is another barnburner that goes into overdrive à la the Replacements. It’s in sharp contrast to the tender-yet-dreamy pop of “A Voice”, which has Emmich seemingly at his wit’s end, mired in a breakup and the ensuing lows. The final song is the piano-driven title track, which comes in at a proverbial snail’s pace. It’s as if Emmich wants to try a dirge to close the record and he manages to do it with flying colors. It’s a debut that hopefully won’t be lost in the shuffle, as Emmich is seemingly just scratching the surface of a limitless well of talent.
// Notes from the Road
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