As is the problem with most albums of its time in the independent world, where not releasing an album on a regular basis can force the musicians to get real jobs, Engine Down’s Demure suffers in quality for this very reason. That’s not to say that Demure was rushed out without a second thought. A lot of thought, energy, and talent went into making this recording. However, certain songs rise above others in quality. In the context of a classic album, this would not be a problem. Engine Down has not crafted one, though.
It’s become almost a given that the first song on each Engine Down record will grab your attention and lift your hopes. On To Bury Within The Sound, the group did this with the opening sequence of songs, “Retread” and “Trial and Error”. On these two songs, we saw Engine Down exhibiting exactly what the songs suggest. “Retread” is almost generic in its emo clichés, but, as with new MTV2 favorite Thursday, they reveled in the clichés so well that it almost made the genre seem fresh again. Lyrics such as “Force fed your lies” did not exhibit a change from the heritage that the group was involved in with their previous bands. On “Trial and Error”, the theme is the group trying to break free of these constraints. It’s not entirely successful, surely, but this one-two punch to open up the album was one of the most forceful and potent combinations to come out in a long time. On Demure, the opener is titled “Songbird” and it is a perfect opener, musically and lyrically, for much of the music to follow. Keeley Davis sings “Settled in / Made the stain / For comfort’s sake”. The music chugs along following the lyrical line, modestly allowing Davis to state his point. This beginning, hinting at complacency and comfort, reflects what Engine Down has never been about. On each successive release, they have changed their sound a bit, played with expectations, urging fans to come along for the ride with them.
Unfortunately, on this release, this experimentation with style has led to a sort of dead end and is oddly reminiscent of To Bury Within The Sound‘s problems. By taking on a different style of guitar rock, Engine Down has forced themselves into a corner where only a few songs can make their way to the forefront of the listener’s mind. On this particular release, “Second of February” takes this honor and is the obvious highlight. Its buildup and climax are among the record’s most clichéd things, but the song ends up being surprising because of the rest of the album’s contents. This can be traced to the fact that Engine Down has seemingly decided to take a songwriting tack along the lines of Six Parts Seven and other more mellow post-rock outfits. The particular failing here that Six Parts Seven only sometimes falls prey to is its instrumentation.
By using electric guitars and traditional rock instruments, and in light of their previous record, which featured a good number of emotional climaxes within songs and during the record as a whole, Engine Down subdues the possibilities inherent with the instruments on this release. It appears to be a willful sublimation of the rock and roll aesthetic to allow a post rock blandness. It is interesting to note that, if Engine Down had mined the emo territory of loud vs. soft and screamed vs. sung, they would probably be criticized for bringing too many of those clichés to the forefront of this release. However, it is the very fact that they have switched so severely, without any sort of link to their past interest in interesting song structures and harmonized vocals, that this record comes out to be a mediocre representation of what Engine Down could be. Instead, Engine Down has forsaken the loud and driving riffs for a calmer, more streamlined approach on this album. While, overall, it works to a degree, the album is fraught with the dead weight of too many songs sounding alike and the record being a bit too loud to relax to and a bit too soft to rock out to. Quite an unfortunate territory to inhabit—here’s hoping to a more varied and engaging listen next time.
// Notes from the Road
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