You Should Know: The 10 Best Early November Songs

Posted: by The Editor

The Early November (photo by Mitchell Wojick)

Last week, the long-running New Jersey emo band The Early November released their self-titled seventh record on Pure Noise. Formed in 2001 and led by the prolific songwriter Ace Enders, The Early November was, in their original era, an underappreciated gem of the Drive-Thru Records era of third wave emo music, crafting confessional, precociously wearied rock songs that kind of felt nostalgic from the jump, an effect of the (obviously) autumnal quality of their music. While they made their name on sticky, sentimental songs like “Ever So Sweet” and “Sunday Drive,” the band was always something of an underdog, and, after releasing one of the most (if not the most) ambitious records of the era in 2006, the enormous, theatrical triple-disc effort The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path, the band took a four-year hiatus before reconvening in 2011. The band has released new records every few years since then. 

It’s difficult for me to talk about The Early November with much critical distance. For most of my life, this band has been The Band for me — I have a maple leaf tattooed on my forearm in their honor. I owe a lot of who I am as a person to this band, going all the way back to my pre-teen years, back to the day my older sister opened a package from Drive-Thru Records, her pre-order of the aforementioned behemoth The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path (it was supposed to come with a tee shirt which she never did receive — she never fails to mention it). I have always believed that there was something special in this band that has never been properly communicated to the masses, and my long relationship with this music has sometimes made it difficult for me to articulate just what that is. But I think there’s something at the heart of these songs — the messy earnestness, the will to persevere, the desire to stay true — and at the core of their sound — the melancholy acoustic guitars, the cracking vocals close to the ear, the everyday heartbreak blown to dramatic rock-and-roll proportions — that still has the power to take my breath away, makes me sing or shout or look forlornly out the window like I’m 14 again. 

These feelings come through even as the band has marched on into the 2020s. It’s easy to think of a band like this in terms of their “legacy era,” but I think it’s important to insist just how much great music The Early November has made since coming back together. The Early November, for instance, is as passionate and surprising as ever, full of songs that shake things up and still get at the heart of this whole thing. I think a band like this deserves to be known as a whole, and so I’ve put together this list of 10 of the band’s best songs from their entire career, encapsulating all the different sounds and attitudes of The Early November. 

Read the list below and listen to the whole playlist (plus some extra songs I couldn’t bear to leave out) on Apple Music or Spotify. The Early November is out now on Pure Noise Records, and the band heads out on tour starting next week.

10. “Perfect Sphere (Bubble)” from Lilac (2019)

The Early November took some big swings on their restless 2019 record Lilac, exploring the lighter, poppier angles of their sound set against some of their darkest lyrics to date — it’s an album full of tortured insomnia and helpless self-destruction, all-night binges and car-crash metaphors. But opener “Perfect Sphere (Bubble)” is a bit of a misdirect, a sweet and buoyant indie-pop song about devotion and care. “I will always be there to keep you up in the air,” Enders sings throughout the song. It’s a promise, an affirmation, one that holds the rest of the record together — no matter how difficult things get, there will always be that grounding commitment at the top of it all.


9. “Figure it Out” from The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path (2006)

After picking up some momentum with their proper 2003 debut The Room’s Too Cold, the band took three years to produce a follow-up, all while watching a number of their peers emerge from the underground into big-ticket emo stardom. The band’s colossal triple-disc record, 2006’s The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path, is their attempt to meet the moment and more — a concept album about a young man dealing with the lasting impacts of childhood abandonment and deceit, composed of a straightforward rock record (The Mechanic), a more delicate, experimental acoustic-based record (The Mother), and a narrative musical audiobook that plays out like a stage production (The Path). With the runtime capping out at over two hours, the triple-disc was obviously a gamble on the band’s part, and a lot of people will tell you that it didn’t pay off — the troubled production exhausted the band and the complicated end result tested listeners’ patience, and the band went on hiatus the year after release.

For me, though, The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path is a monument — a messy, weird, ambitious testament to putting everything on the line. And although it may seem like Too Much on paper, its first two discs are full of perfectly accessible rock songs. “Figure it Out,” which closes the first disc, distills all of the longing and broken-heartedness central to the project of The Early November into one crystal-clear slow-build. It’s their twinkliest song — the patient, glittering guitars in the low moments predicting the style that emo revival bands like Empire! Empire! and You Blew It! would bring into vogue a few years later — and it’s also one of their most subtle. Much of the song is dominated by a single line, “you should know,” which Enders repeats, steady and sure, without wavering, over and over throughout the latter part of the track, even as the music behind him crashes and falls away. 


8. “In Currents” from In Currents (2012)

After a four-year break following The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path, the band came back together to produce In Currents in 2012, sounding surprisingly refreshed. On In Currents, the band took their classic, slightly dour autumnal feel and let the color rush in — here, the rock songs are more intense (“Frayed in Doubt”), the ballads are more dramatic (“Call Off The Bells”), the stories are more detailed (“A Stain on The Carpet”), the grievances more pointed (“Digital Age”). The title track is the apex of this newfound vibrancy, an electro-rock smash, synthy ‘80s keys bursting into a euphoric rush of a chorus. It’s a hands-up, jump up-and-down affair as Enders belts, “life is an ocean and it moves like this: so you get what you ask for,” a wildly grand idea that begs to be an anthem, one to lose yourself in. 


7. “Sunday Drive” from For All of This (2002)

The early part of The Early November’s career (early Early November, maybe) is defined in part by the acoustic ballads. When I think about the beginning of this band, I often think of the grainy footage of Enders performing “Open Eyes” and “Sunday Drive” in his basement in 2002, either a remnant of some Enhanced CD bonuses or a part of the Drive-Thru Records DVD. This dispatch — acoustic guitar strummed hard, voice swallowed a bit by the room, Enders’s eyes never looking up from behind his bushy brown hair — has this incredibly personal aura. It’s diaristic, devastated in the total way of a young romance gone wrong. “Sunday Drive” is a classic song about a shift in the air, that moment when you know that something is ending: “the silence from the side of the car tells me everything and how we are.” It encapsulates the calm before the storm and the storm itself, reaching a breathless catharsis in its last minute, a simple and sweet realization of loss: “What could you be doing that is so much fun without me by your side?” It’s jealous and a little immature, but its innocence still moves me to shout along all these years later. 


6. “The High Priestess” from The Early November (2024)

Four “tarot card songs” anchor the band’s latest self-titled record, and all of them feel like classic Early November songs — bittersweet rock songs concerned with legacy and the fraught ethics of success, a throughline they’ve been tracing since “Mountain Range,” and one that hits heavier as the band carries on in an era of mid-2000s nostalgia festivals, trying to honor their history without becoming stale. “The High Priestess” is the best of the bunch, due in part to its wrenching, slow-build finale. “I want to say the words that make you still believe,” Enders sings. “The High Priestess” yearns for continued vitality for the band, and it succeeds by sounding as dropped in and committed as ever.


5. “A Mountain Range in My Living Room” from The Room’s Too Cold (2003)

The Room’s Too Cold is probably the band’s most celebrated LP, the one most often given the anniversary treatment in 5-year intervals. Highlight “A Mountain Range in My Living Room” heaves and surges, shows off the band’s early fascination with soft-loud dynamics that would define the darker side of emo’s underground in the early to mid 2000s. This one is particularly notable for the way it plays out in a live setting — towering, crushing waves of sound that match this song’s pronounced fear of falling from grace. It’s a thrill to shout that chorus as loud as you can to match the sheer force. It always knocks me out.


4. “Narrow Mouth” from Imbue (2015)

On Imbue, the second Early November LP after their 2011 reunion, the band leans into louder, tighter rock and roll, incorporating a bit of ‘90s grunge into their sound. Fittingly, “Narrow Mouth,” which opens the record, is the band’s mightiest, most powerful rock song. It builds on the promise of “A Mountain Range in My Living Room” from a decade earlier, finding higher peaks of sound, upping the stakes at every beat. “Narrow Mouth” may be the best vocal performance that Ace Enders has on record — turning his classically earnest, yearning voice into an exasperated cry: “you gotta get something right,” he insists as noise erupts around him, a surprisingly confrontational moment from a band formerly known for isolated, mournful breakup songs. But “Narrow Mouth” is still all about the feeling — a crashing finale invokes the wonder of being alive, in your body — “I can actually feel the blood coursing through my veins” — and the fear of letting the moment slip through your fingertips — “How do you hold onto it?” “Narrow Mouth” is crushing, exhilarating in its ability to capture that visceral feeling. 


3. “Five Years” from The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path (B-side, 2006) and Twenty (2022)

My favorite Target-exclusive bonus track of all time. Now, we did not have the Target-exclusive version of The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path, so for many years, I could only hear this song on Youtube or from stray MP3 finds, but its bright self-assuredness, its clear-hearted resolve to stay true (“I’m trying not to lose my reasons”) hits harder and harder with each passing year. I prefer the dusty, understated quality of the original 2006 version (it feels like it has some of the magic of the Bill Lugg years, that rootsy rock and roll quality), but I’m grateful for the re-recorded version that the band released on their 2022 career retrospective Twenty, for making sure that this song never gets lost to time. 


2. “I Want to Hear You Sad” from For All of This (2002)

For me, that quirky, plucky opening riff is as iconic as anything, like the opening bass in “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World or the earth-shattering saxophone solo in Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me.” I would know that riff anywhere. It announces the beginning of what is, for me, the defining emo song of the Drive-Thru era, a rousing pop-punk anthem that has always felt loaded with history. It’s a simple breakup song, really, but it’s the clarity of the sentiment that makes it endure: “for all of this / I’m better off without you.” It’s cheeky, it’s cathartic, and it’s probably a total lie that you tell yourself to get over something, to move on and get over it, but it does the trick. Also — nothing hits like this song when you just quit a job you hate (see also: “Quit” by Hey Mercedes). 


1. “Money in His Hand” from The Mother, The Mechanic, and The Path (2006)

While The Early November might be remembered mostly for their bleeding-heart songs about innocent romantic turmoil, the most common theme that runs throughout their body of work is that of the curious dynamic between responsibility and success, between identity and money. That theme dominates their most recent self-titled record, about finding the will to go on and create art against the odds. It dominates their state of the scene songs like “Digital Age” and it bleeds into Enders’s solo work as I Can Make a Mess. “Money in His Hand,” the first of 46 total tracks on their huge triple-disc gambit, is the band’s most crystalline statement on that theme, on the trouble of making music in a world that wants you to make money instead. It is not a treatise and it does not preach — rather, “Money in His Hand” shows the personal struggle, the way the phantom of success and comfort can lurk over your shoulder while you’re out there trying to do your thing, be yourself. It waffles between a defeated sentiment, that nothing you do matters unless it can make you rich (“it’s not the heart that makes the man / it’s the money in his hand”) and the revelation of knowing that can’t be true when you can’t seem to check yourself out, can’t forget your love of the game (“I had to quit to realize / that I can’t waste no time on it / in case this is all I get”). All the while, this sinister, growling riff spins round and round and the band digs its heels in — saying “buckle up, we’re in it for the long haul.” “Money in His Hand” is the best Early November song because it communicates that endurance, that lasting attitude of finding a way to make this all work for as long as they can. It’s a song that has kept me going for nearly 20 years, has kept me from throwing in the towel on so many things that have mattered to me. That power, to me, is the most important part of this band’s legacy.


Jordan Walsh | @jordalsh

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