o...emo. Like ska, swing and neo-garage, it's one of those genres whose proponents continue blissfully (or in this case dejectedly) performing, recording and otherwise existing regardless of whatever fickle attentions the media may throw their way. But now that I think about it, emo's looking more and more like the new ska, what with the recent popular success of bands like A New Found Glory, the Dashboard Confessional and Saves the Day. Of course, most casual scenesters will recognize the inelegant fallacy of comparing such mainstream punk-lite to a saturnine indie outfit like Engine Down, who make the aforementioned bands seem carefree and upbeat by comparison. Said scenesters should also be aware that the term "emo" was obsolete long before the dawn of the decade; I use it here only to stress that should you see Engine Down's name described as such elsewhere, they're not exactly TRL/Rolling Stone material.
Still, when your record's called Demure and half your songs feature introspective-sounding one-word titles, it does kinda give off that sensitive-white-guys-with-guitars-and-possibly-piano vibe. And despite the risk of contributing to stereotypes about a genre already infamous for its hyper-stylized melodrama, I can't say there's much wrong with that. I mean, if you're into that aesthetic, you won't find much to complain about with the record. If you need concrete comparisons (not like the fake ones I used before), Engine Down mines the same tear-soaked vein as Juno, the White Octave, Kilowatthours and Cursive. Staccato riffs lurch forward with lockstep uniformity, pieces of vocal melodies linger on for juuust longer than necessary, knowledge of time signatures other than 4/4 is occasionally demonstrated, and as always, minor keys let you know just how depressed they are.
I guess to speak well of Engine Down, I'm going to have to stay away from their songwriting skills, because they're just not that magnetic. One exception is the album's best song, "2nd of February," which boasts a nice, sticky 5/4 guitar riff that's just insistent enough to ensure memorability. In general, ED's sound is nice and atmospheric enough, and the music is competently executed. . . unfortunately, most of it's simultaneously too loud to unwind to and not forceful enough to really get my rock receptors firing. So your enjoyment of this record will depend in large part upon how much you dig that doleful sound, because ED doesn't really depart from the pattern set forth in the first two tracks at all.
If the tone of my analysis seems a tad torpid, well, it's due to the fact that despite Demure's attempts at heaviness, the overall vibe comes off as very gentle and lulling. I have it on good authority that the band's previous effort, To Bury Within the Sound, was even more soporific owing to the lack of heavy riffage. All this strikes me as suprising, because I seem to recall that they came fairly correct with the rock when I saw them live a couple summers ago. But unfortunately, on record these guys have neither the songwriting acumen nor the originality to impress, which is why my reaction to Demure can be summarized with a resounding "eh."
Reviewed by: Deen Freelon
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01