Written by: TL on 15/07/2016 18:45:26

It's been two years since the Kentucky-based survivors Emarosa, having weathered both the MySpace age and the departure of golden boy singer Jonny Craig, took their first step onwards with new singer Bradley Walden. Their first album together, "Versus" cast a fox on its cover, and now, two years and some member changes later, the fox looks older and grayer on "131" - and is oriented upwards. It is howling at the moon, as if in pain after the loss of a mate, one would imagine, especially after listening to the album, which is a velvety, seductive blend of rock, soul and r&b the whole way through - the kind of record you can imagine putting on both when you want to get it on as well as later, when you really don't want to get over it.

It's a bit deceptive, though, because the production of "131" pulls the guitars a bit back in the soundscape, seemingly relegating them to noodling away at melodies that intertwine with a subtle but noticeable keyboard ambiance, making for atmospheres that range from funky to weeping, yet are at all times sweltering. Walden is cast front and centre, aided by tastefully subtle dubbing, and while admittedly his delivery is a bit more whiney in the highs and a bit less powerful than his infamous predecessor, his performance on the new record is stellar in every way that it wasn't quite on his debut with the band.

Whether credit is due to Walden, guitarist ER White or keyboardist Jordan Stewart, one thing is certain and that is that "131" is spilling over with dramatic and infectious melodies and cleverly dynamic song compositions. And the album hits you like a warm gust of wind right from the beginning, after a ceremonious bit of gospel sets up for the instruments to come in, and Walden croons "If you're huuuurt! I'm sooorryyyyy! But that's what I've been through and, I'm looonely, and I need you to help me through it!" It is corny, no doubt about it, but in that strangely self-aware and compelling way that r&b and soul have used corny heartaches to drive listeners mad since forever. And while the record certainly wallows in similar emotional territories for its duration, the cleverly orchestrated calls, responses and surges between Walden and the instruments routinely lift the songs an extra notch, often just after a chorus, when you otherwise feel like you've just predicted the structure.

"Sure" thus impresses with a great guitar signature to respond to Walden's singing in the verse, while "Miracle" thrives by a dark rush of drama, and particularly drummer Connor Denis makes his presence felt under the second chorus, giving the song the feeling of watching a twirling dancer right on the verge of falling. "Cloud 9" has one of those choruses to die for, which just gets under your skin in one sitting and haunts you for days, even if you didn't like the song in the first place, and both the rhythmic bridge and the gospel finish serves it well. It feels like a Closure In Moscow track, except with all of the sexy and none of the crazy. And if you thought you'd heard enough Michael Jackson-inspired modern rock after this year's Letlive., then you better don't listen to "Helpless", where the prickly guitar teases consistently while Walden somersaults vocally, crowning a great performance with a proper screechy "AUW!" just to drive the point home towards the end.

If the record has a weakness, it is that things almost capsize in the entirely balladic "Porcelain", which is so tender and sentimental that it almost becomes comical, and which awakens an otherwise distracted awareness of how ridiculously soapy the whole thing is. But a well-timed bit of female guest vocals and some nice, gushing synths bring in some extra novelty straight after in "Never", repairing the spell and allowing the last three tracks to bring the record home by the same generously applied compositional pleasures that consistently characterises it.

All things considered, "131" is a not a perfect record - it is a little bit too samey, and perhaps over-reliant on Walden's turning himself inside out excessively - but the songwriting is leaps and bounds improved from the band's last effort, and leaps and bounds above the average release presently. One of the few releases around where you can easily imagine yourself singing your throat completely ragged to almost every single song, should you chance to catch the band live.

Download: Hurt, Sure, Cloud 9, Helpless
For The Fans Of: Slaves, Siamese, Closure In Moscow
Listen: facebook.com/emarosa

Release date 17.06.2016
Hopeless Records

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