REVIEW: Pretty Embers — Under (LP)
Under is the first release from the trio Pretty Embers, labeled the “Death Cab Cutie of the South”, but this half-hearted lunge at garnering some reflected glory is beneath them. The band is far more than that. Vocalist and guitarist Kameron Mitchell, bass player Mason Thomas, and drummer Ethan Standard began playing when the trio lived and attended school in Birmingham, Alabama and their musical dialogue rarely missteps during this release.
It concerns itself with timeless issues. Personal turmoil of one sort or another has fueled art since time immemorial and Pretty Embers follow a similar path. “For You” starts Under off examining someone reeling after the end of a relationship, unable to put the past aside, unable to move on. It is a recurring theme. Pretty Embers keeps their rock inclinations in check for the most part, but this opener has more guitar-fueled bite than most.
The condensed and tightly written lyrics for “I Don’t Need You” are among the album’s best. Listening to Pretty Embers balance the black vehemence of the words against the song’s musical arrangement is fascinating. The latter has a languid demeanor for much of the song and it’s only near its conclusion when Pretty Embers lowers the hammer on listeners.
“Take It All Back” has a similar musical character. The song’s first half has an even artier and sparser touch than its predecessor verging on prog rather than alternative rock. It certainly inches close to a music of the spheres quality. You can’t help but applaud their craftsmanship. Pretty Embers utilizes each musical tool in their toolkit with a steady hand, never pushing any individual element too far, The measured approach they take pays off with mature and thoroughly satisfying compositions.
Few other songs embody that better than “Inside”. It’s one of the album’s more detailed compositions with its near-tactile guitar playing. Mitchell really achieves some memorable effects with this track — his notes sound and feel like they are glittering in the air around you. Standard and Thomas’s rhythm section work is the glue, however, holding everything together without ever being obtrusive. Few debuting bands play so completely as an unit.
Acoustic guitar has prominence on “Losing Sleep” and this stark change of gears is successful. This is a case where the exquisite musical backing provides a welcome antidote to the remorseless self-pity of its lyrics. Listeners who focus on the music and pay little mind to the lyrics won’t mind the writing, but it will repel some. It’s important, however, that you hear these songs by the standards of their genre.
“Realize”, following that line of reasoning, is one of its gems. This is unrequited love writ large, or perhaps love denied, but the insistent voice within urging the song’s “narrator” to let go is a welcome part of the track. Standard’s varied drumming builds a propulsive momentum for the song. It never gets away from itself, however. The structure of “It’s Not the Same” is musically reminiscent of the earlier “I Don’t Need You”, but the song is otherwise another track rife with meditative and detailed guitar. Pretty Embers can be very proud of Under. They’ve written, recorded, and released a fully-realized effort bands two or three albums into their career struggle to capture. It’s a worthwhile addition to any library.