REVIEW ROUND-UP: The Early November, Field Medic, Birds In Row

A table covered in a wine-red cloth, with a cake, champagne and balloons on it. In front are two more balloons reading ‘2’ and ‘0’

The Early November


Really, for a band like The Early November to lean so deeply into legacy makes all the sense in the world. Okay, perhaps ‘legacy’ is a bit too strong a word for ‘nostalgia’, but it’s definitely the angle that the band are playing towards. This is being marketed as a 20th anniversary album, which more than anything, only really highlights The Early November’s longevity, seeing as they’ve hardly been the most impactful act around outside of the 2000s emo scene that spawned so many others of a similar stature. Even so, the upper hand does go here, for the simple fact that The Early November have actually lasted (if you ignore the hiatus between 2007 and 2011), and Twenty is almost entirely indicative of a band for whom that’s their dominant trait.

It makes sense when a lot of it is a compilation of odds and ends that have never appeared on an album proper, though it’s not a slapdash product in that sense. Sure, the mixing can be a bit uneven, particularly in the volume of Ace Enders’ vocals early on, but Twenty stands pretty firm as a decent, polished example of emo / pop-rock in this vein. It’s generally clean with just the right amount of roughness and warmth (save for the maudlin, Dashboard Confessional-esque Trees and Pretty Pretty), and has all the lyrical sentiment of a big, sweeping romance that’s colouring within the lines rather deliberately.

That is to say, the safety net between Twenty is taut and ready, though never necessary. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single risk taken across the board, as The Early November lean into ideals driven on balancing big-hearted anthemia with unfettered approachability. That’s not a bad thing in itself when songs like Over My Shoulders and Five Years are so attuned to the scope that makes this era of pop-rock click; the difference is that Twenty can also feel a bit toothless for it, in that it doesn’t see the band pushing themselves or working to expand beyond their preset abilities. It’s not like that’s uncommon for these sorts of bands either, though that’s more an indictment on the whole ‘nostalgia as a commodity’ practice than a defence of The Early November themselves.

Thus, Twenty caps out at being a mildly enjoyable but insubstantial listen, and to an extent, that’s the point. When the ‘anniversary’ aspect is its primary asset, it doesn’t make sense to expect the needle to be moved, and that’s exactly what The Early November deliver. It’s also very difficult to speak about for the same reasons, but a fan-first approach like this always yields those results. To whom that applies, expect some semi-permanent rotation out of this one; otherwise, a spin or two will probably do the trick. It’s not like you won’t have heard this exact thing before anyway.

For fans of: Dashboard Confessional, The Starting Line, Acceptance

‘Twenty’ by The Early November is released on 14th October on Pure Noise.

Kevin Patrick Sullivan pensively sitting on a bed, with framed pictures on the wall behind him

Field Medic

grow your hair long if you’re wanting to see something that you can change

As far as opening salvos go, a line like “I wanna fall off the face of the earth and probably die” is a good barometer for where an album is going. It also helps that it’s coming from an artist like Field Medic, who’ll often find association among the Pitchfork-friendly alt-folk crowd whose introspection and bare honesty comes emblazoned on their sleeve. For Kevin Patrick Sullivan specifically, he got more traction on 2020’s Floral Prince than perhaps average, but that could maybe be attributed to greater longterm visibility than any sort of reinvention. Music this lo-fi is hard to reshape too handily, so a new Field Medic album usually comes with a pretty robust idea of what’s in store.

With that in mind though, grow your hair long… at least strives to deepen its pool more than average. There’s an alt-country wistfulness to always emptiness that parlays into banjo- and harmonica-integrated folk on noonday sun, and even further afield are the busier synth whirrs of i had a dream that you died and stiffer pop beat and strings on i had my fun/back to the start. Just in general, there’s a couple more layers of polish to sand back some of the ragged edges, and that can make it a bit easier to swallow overall. There’s not a great deal else though; bells and whistles are otherwise kept strictly to a minimum, to allow the delicate acoustics and Sullivan’s reedier voice to take up the most space. It’s pleasant enough on the lilting melodies of weekends and miracle/marigold, even if the wider presentation is still firmly inside its own box.

It’s essentially what’s expected from albums like this, with the limitations being part-and-parcel with the overall work. At only nine tracks long, there’s not a great deal of room to branch out as it is, but there’s also a slightness to it that can be rather conspicuous in how waifish the album can sometimes feel. At least there’s more to the writing for the most part, as the oft-touted centrepiece of albums like this, where there’s a detail to weekends or i had a dream that you died that offers a more dimensional look at the ennui and mental degradation afflicting Sullivan. It’s also a bit top-heavy at the same time, with a lot of the standout lines and turns of phrase coming earlier on, and leaving the rest to feel thematically complete but less gripping.

It’s definitely a case of grow your hair long… being an album to suit its audience more than anything. It can be a bit vanilla and undersized at times, but for where it’s going and the lane it’s in, it’s not doing anything all that wrong either. Sullivan is definitely a talent in his field, a fact that’s easy to recognise and appreciate even if not everything connects. For what it’s worth, from a perspective decidedly not within the demographic, it’s alright.

For fans of: Julien Baker, Lomelda, Tomberlin

‘grow your hair long if you’re wanting to see something that you can change’ by Field Medic is released on 14th October on Run For Cover Records.

A painting of a monk running his fingers through pink flowers

Birds In Row

Gris Klein

The individuality often sought for within rock music is typified by Birds In Row. Even if they aren’t the biggest or most prolific band, their output has an untamed, electric nature through and through, befitting of an endeavour that sees its creators keep themselves effectively anonymous to not overshadow the music. It similarly comes embodied startlingly well on Gris Klein, emerging from the pandemic with an uncertainty and shapeshifting colour that Birds In Row wear so effectively.

There’s a kinetic feel that this sort of unambiguously unstable music brings out so often. Woven in are strains of progressive music with punk and early screamo, free-flowing with a volatility in how naturally the screamed vocals come. The literary feel to the writing also does a lot in that vein, speaking on fracturing mental health and political outcry exacerbated by the ever-uncertain, ever-traumatic pandemic, the sort of loose ground that a band like Birds In Row can mine so thoroughly.

Key to it all, though, is the atmosphere, something which Gris Klein bears in no short supply. As for hooks, they’re a bit thin on the ground, though they aren’t a component crucial to what’s being done here. Instead, songs like Noah and Grisaille prioritise the buildup and cranking the tension and tautness, and that becomes way more exciting overall. It feels dynamic and free, anchored in a fantastic bass tone that’s always audibly reverberating behind guitars that are sharper and more wiry overall, and some phenomenally quick-handed drumming. It’s simply a terrific musical display across the board, always moving and recalibrating without missing a beat or falling too far into obliqueness.

That’s the crucial thing about Birds In Row—they’re layered and progressive, but never completely inaccessible through it. There’s enough sheer force within the details to define their punk edge and sate in that regard, on top of a production job and compositional deftness that’s always feeling fertile. As such, Gris Klein acts as a welcome addition to 2022’s pantheon of killer punk and hardcore, moving to its own beat and feeling characteristically vital every step of the way.

For fans of: Brutus, Touché Amoré, Oathbreaker

‘Gris Klein’ by Birds In Row is released on 14th October on Red Creek Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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