Despite all of the advances in music production over the years, few things have been able to achieve the same sort of emotional resonance as a four-piece rock and roll setup. Electric guitars and drum kits might be superfluous in an age where albums can be created using only a laptop, but no amount of soft synths and drum machines can replace a good ol’ guitar-centered four-piece.
Chicago’s Emblems are proof of this concept, and their new single “Virgo,” their first new music in five years, is testament to this.
The song opens with a lead guitar line augmented by a bouncing dotted-eighth delay (think U2’s Edge), which is joined by a dancy drum groove, a melodic bass line, and almost shoegazy guitar chords. In contrast to the peppy instruments, the vocals are subdued and melancholy as frontman Matthew Stevens ruminates on panic attacks and dissociation. In the chorus, he tries to center himself: “Lower yourself down slowly. Take deep breaths. Focus on a memory. It doesn’t matter what it is.” The divorce between the lyrics and the bouncing Two Door Cinema Club-esque instrumentation might seem jarring, but it only strengthens the themes of feeling lost within yourself.
That instrumental work, by the way, is masterfully done in every regard. Every bass acrobatic fill is tasteful and satisfying. The drums drive the track as if they were dancing. The interplay between the guitars is as crisp as a spring morning, and the tones are absolutely superb—though given that Stevens hosts the effects-centered podcast Pedal Echoes, that’s no surprise.
By the end of the track, Stevens’ voice, which spends most of the song in a hushed baritone, raises up an octave and bellows until it breaks into a half-scream, repeating the line, “I’m floating away” as the song fades away, a sentiment that many of us could find relatable in an age of overwhelming news cycles, endless social feeds, and escapist media.
“Virgo” is the first single from the upcoming album Everything Is Strange, coming July 22nd through Outcast Tape Infirmary.