Rise Records’ post-hardcore outfit Emarosa released their third studio album titled Versus on Sept. 8, 2014. This release marks their first since their 2010 self-titled sophomore album and their first to feature new lead vocalist Bradley Walden.
The band parted ways with previous front man Jonny Craig in 2011 and stated they would continue writing music without him. After months of perceived media inactivity, they announced in mid-2013 that Walden would assume Emarosa’s lead vocal duties from then on and that he would record a new album with them. This album became Versus and Walden did not disappoint on these recordings.
Emarosa established a welcomed presence in the alternative music industry with Craig. Their two albums recorded with Craig, Relativity and Emarosa, featured atmospheric and hard hitting guitar-driven instrumentals as Craig’s distinct voice soared overtop. His trademark soulful tones, coupled with the ability to also sing with edgy, raspy belting, gave the band a crossover sound between R&B and alternative rock and gained the band exposure.
Walden’s performance on Versus shares many similarities to Craig in terms of soulful crooning and powerful belting over aggressive music. Versus delivers hard rocking tracks that will please listeners who appreciate Emarosa’s past discography. However, this release also has a newfound sense of experimentation and maturity that sets it apart from Craig’s era. Walden’s voice features deeper and smoother tones than Craig’s. Rather than singing over the music, his melodies dig into the songs with a sincerity not present in the past releases.
Versus features tracks incorporating elements of pop and indie rock, which are two styles not prevalent in the band’s back catalog. This exploration gives each song on the album its own distinct sound. Walden shows listeners his versatility as a vocalist, as his voice fits seamlessly across the eleven tracks.
The album opens with the track “People Like Me, We Just Don’t Play.” Walden’s crooning to a snare drum and humming guitar transitions into a melodic lead guitar riff played over a powerful chord progression. This song’s mix of soulful singing and alternative rock instrumentals delivers a sound reminiscent of their self-titled album and establishes Versus as an appropriate sequel. However, the second chorus is the most outstanding part of this song. The music unexpectedly shifts from soft vocals and quiet guitars to loud, crunching chords with Walden belting some his strongest notes on the album.
Track four, “I’ll Just Wait,” features Emarosa trading their familiar post-hardcore sound in favor of an indie rock direction. This song shows the band matured in their songwriting during the four year gap between Versus and the self-titled album. “I’ll Just Wait” begins with light guitar riffing joined by a gentle snare drum hits. A slow yet upbeat chorus follows and provides an interesting contrast to Walden’s somber lyrics detailing grief over a past romance. While Craig never shied from singing about romance troubles, Walden’s lyrics carry a personal authenticity to them that Craig did not deliver during his time with the band.
Perhaps Walden’s most impressive vocal performance on Versus comes at the start of the album’s sixth track, “Say Hello to the Bad Guy.” Psychedelic keyboards and pulsing bass drum start the song as Walden quickly joins with his voice, sounding almost exactly like the late Michael Jackson. The song itself remains mellow for most of its duration before finishing with crashing cymbals and atmospheric guitar work, providing an excellent bridge between the album’s lighter first-half and energetic second-half.
The eighth track, “Mad,” returns listeners to an alternative rock style similar to “People Like Me…” Out of any other track on Versus, this track’s instrumentals resemble Emarosa’s previous albums the most. This song also marks the point in the album where Walden’s vocals most resemble Craig’s. However, this is not a disappointing aspect. Walden’s similarities to Craig on this piece validate his vocal diversity present throughout the album.
“Gold Dust,” the album’s penultimate song, brings another drastic change to Emarosa’s sound. Walden commands the lead on this song with catchy melodies and numerous hooks that one would expect from artists like Patrick Stump or Panic! At the Disco’s Brendon Urie. The track also sheds the complex guitar work again for a simpler, yet driving foundation for Walden’s vocals, similar to “I’ll Just Wait.”
Out of a five-point scale, Emarosa’s Versus receives four and-a-half points. The album satisfies the band’s veteran listeners with enough diversity to reinvent their identity and expand to new audiences. Walden proves a valued addition to the lineup, but instrumentals during parts of the more experimental tracks lack dynamic and excitement. For their first album in four years, Emarosa delivers a fine product that will appeal to both alternative and indie rock fans.
Versus is available at most physical and digital music retailers. Emarosa is currently touring the United States and will be playing at Starland Ballroom on Friday, Oct. 31 at 6:30 pm with Yellowcard and Memphis May Fire.
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