As a guitarist myself, it can be easy to get hung up on gear. I’ve never seen a pedalboard that I haven’t approached for a closer look. I’ve spent hundreds of hours poring over pedal demos on YouTube and gear forums—sometimes even when I’m not even looking to buy anything. And often, all the shiny enclosures and pretty lights distract me from the fact that these machines are just tools, like a hammer. And like a hammer, the tool itself isn’t nearly as important as what it creates.
Emblems is undoubtedly a Gear Band™. Their music is filled with impressive demonstrations of what sounds their vast array of effects pedals can make. But those effects aren’t just a pretty paint job: Emblems uses these tools like master craftsmen, offering up an album filled with shimmering atmospheres, catchy hooks, and affecting songwriting.
Opener “LO\/M” opens like a prologue, soft vocals floating on billowing guitars that bursts into the aggressive dance punk of “Somewhere Else” that feels a bit like Two Door Cinema Club-meets-Alkaline Trio—which might be a similar intersection of the instrumental work on mewithoutYou’s Catch For Us the Foxes. It might sound like an odd mixture, but it’s a good demonstration of what’s at hand: athletic drum work, dancy bass lines, and heavily-effected guitars play indie rock that takes cues from a wide range of influences, but leans a few degrees toward emo.
The sonic palette stays more or less consistent throughout the record, but there’s a big variety of moods. “Animals” is dark and filled with a Radiohead-esque paranoia. “Virgo” is practically a handwritten invitation to the dancefloor. “In Fear” is urgent and cathartic. Closer “One Day, You Would See In Color” builds from atmospheric solemnity to anthemic post-rock grandeur.
But throughout the record, despite the variety of tones and emotions at play, their voice is clear and defined—not just in Stevens’ assuring melodies, but in the consistency of their instrumental work. The end result is an understated statement that says far more than it lets on.
Everything is Strange is out now through Outcast Tape Infirmary.