The Early November – “Imbue” Review

Posted: by Colin

More often than not, it’s clear when a band is on the brink of creating a spectacular album. Where the collection of songs upon release, instantly defines the band and becomes synonymous with their existence. In the case of The Early November, it’s not that their discography lacks that, it’s that their three albums are so vastly different from each other, yet still unequivocally adored by fans, that there is no unanimous decision on what work the band has been defined by. This is a testament to the standard The Early November has held themselves to over their fourteen year history. However, the fourth album from southern New Jersey natives, Imbue, is the type of career defining album only a band with that much experience, in equal amounts of strife and success, could produce. 

The power to make such a bold claim is not what their previous albums lack, but what Imbue has. Imbue is defining because it combines the slew of influences and traits The Early November has always had in their arsenal. It has the pop rock punch from For All of This, the raw emotion of The Room’s Too Cold, the story telling prowess of The Mother, The Mechanic, & The Path, and the pop sensibilities littered throughout In Currents. Aside from taking the best elements from the previous TEN releases, the band’s non-complacent attitude, ability to transition from buzzing and booming to melancholy while not stripping down the layers of their sound, and air tight musicianship all attribute to the success of Imbue. 

The anxiousness, which could almost be mistaken for frustration, is seen throughout multiple songs on the album in different ways. There’s brashness in ‘Better That Way’ where the band’s chaotic layering is symbolic of the ever-changing, dynamic, and complex environment being addressed in the song. The upbeat, power pop chorus on ‘Magnolia’ that follows (think of it as an evolution from the band’s first pop effort, ‘Hair’) plays shy as to let Enders directly address his struggles without getting into the nitty-gritty details. The stand out seventh track ‘Harmony’, is a somber ballad filled with graceful devastation, an oxymoron that could only be used to describe The Early November, as they have been pinpointing this signature sound for more than a decade. The song also showcases Enders’ ability to go jump several octaves, and in turn, amounts to the pinnacle vocal performance on Imbue, which happens to be exceptional throughout (to no one’s surprise). 

Jump back a couple songs and ‘Harmony’s message starts to become much clearer, as you’ll find yourself thick in Imbue’s mid-life crisis, ‘Boxing Timelines’. The astounding nature of the song is that it feels like Enders’ personal soliloquy about the struggle between love and time. Where a relationship requires time to flourish, but consistently pushes forward disallowing some of the moments that make it what it is to be fully remembered: “Every moment I live, a moment replaces another one” or “Take me back to the places, where time doesn’t exist to break us”. Despite this, the universality of such a theme, backed by the best chorus-fill drummer Jeff Kummer has ever produced, and reflectively wailing guitars makes ‘Boxing Timelines’ one of the most special TEN songs ever created.
Surprisingly, the loudest and most impressionable TEN release to date ends with “Nothing Lasts Forever” – the band’s first attempt at a smashing and abrasive closing track. Unlike a large portion of the songs The Early November has penned, this song has no dual meaning in the context of a bigger picture. ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ is a self-explanatory song about living in the moment regardless of what has happened before or is inevitable in the future. Its rambunctious energy, rhythmic flow, and reckless abandon resembles one of the first songs ever written by the band, ‘Every Night’s Another Story’, and could easily replace it as the band’s new closer for future set lists. Fans can only wonder if the song was meant to be a direct sequel to Every Night’s nearly fourteen years later.

Admittedly, Imbue is (somewhat of) a dark album at points. But as The Early November have aged, the more complex their music has become. The band has always had the uncanny ability to write songs that are intense and serious lyrically but very catchy. On Imbue, the maturation is shown through the blending of their sound to the lyrics being delivered. This lets fans easily discover and pick out the positive lines within the gloom, as they are highlighted by experimental instrumentation. On ‘The Negatives’ Ace exclaims he’s “cutting the lines so the fluid runs out of me and, teaching my body that the negatives can be beaten” and in ‘Cyanide’ he says “(I) Don’t believe in depression, I just gutted myself to prove that I’m different”. Both are only sung once, but happen to be the most memorable lines within each. Finally, the ending lines on the album’s last two songs are also similarly optimistic. ‘I Don’t Care’ uses the title to inspire “I don’t care about the thin cold air, not coming down. I’m never coming down. You give me something to believe in, you give me something to believe in.” and ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ includes “We don’t have to obey the trend, deny our hearts the bitter end, nothing has to change this time, if we have tonight.

Ultimately, what makes Imbue great is the fact that its raw, sincere nature and catchy but grim riffs will give you the ability to shape its attitude in a manner that will allow it to be continually applicable to your life. There’s light and there’s darkness within Imbue, and it’s because the band has blended what they’ve always known, with what they’ve learned the past couple of years. I’m not here to tell you that Imbue is perfect in every way, but it’s an honest, heart-on-the-sleeve type of album we’ve come to expect from The Early November, which is why when the last note strikes, you feel as if you have learned something by listening.