The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path
With the ambitious triple-disc endeavor of The Mother, the Mechanic and the Path, the Early November have either made or broken their career. Forget that the band almost broke up multiple times before writing even began, or that various breakdowns ensued during recording; the members of Early November have thrown themselves completely into a project that the opportunity of attempting really only comes around once. Lucky for them, though, what results is not only an impressive display of their songwriting skills, but a rather enjoyable listen made only more satisfying with each additional spin. A concept record envisioned by frontman Ace Enders, the music is thematically based on the strained relationship between a boy and his overbearing father. As the music unfolds, the son grows up on his own terms, eventually leaving home around eighteen. He has his own child, and though he swears to be a much different parent than his own, soon falls into the same trappings of parenthood he vowed to avoid. With a storyline as such, this is not an album that comes together in one listen; it's going to take some time to fully grasp where the band is coming from lyrically. The music, though, is much easier. "The Mechanic" is the more straightforward rock disc, akin to the bands' previous work. Early November have really grown into themselves -- Enders has never sounded better vocally -- and their songwriting is sharp and engaging. Songs effortlessly shift from full-on blasts of dynamic emo-rock with soaring choruses to introspective and lush indie ruminations. If this disc had been released alone, fans wouldn't have been cheated. "The Mother" is the more stripped-down record, overall boasting gentler sonics and highlighting the more passionate and reflective side of the band, who further embrace their pop sensibilities as they utilize basic singer/songwriter songs driven by acoustic guitar, piano, or gentle drumming ("Little Black Heart," "From Here to LA"), while not forgetting to turn up the volume when necessary (the blues rock-tinged "Scared to Lose"). A straightforward endeavor, "The Mother" is the yin to "The Mechanic"'s yang. Coming out of left field then, is the final extravagant story disc, "The Path" which, as its title may suggest, ties the two other discs together. Not quite a musical or rock opera (but close), the album is character-driven and relies on dialogue between a son and his therapist. Once you get past the creepy voice of the son opening things up, the record joltingly and theatrically maneuvers along, bumping into most every genre along the way as intermittent dialogue more explicitly spells out the story. Helpful plot-wise, but it's admittedly a real weird listen not made any better by that disturbing voice; though there are definitely great moments along the way, it's not a record one will most likely listen to repeatedly. Together, the three discs make for one grandiose journey into the world of Early November. Is it Tommy? No. Is it indulgent? Absolutely. Is it all a bit excessive? Maybe. But the first two discs alone are worth the money (Early November are taking royalty cuts to keep the price at the single-album level), so if the desire presents itself to take on all three multiple times to uncover the hidden meaning, well just consider that a bonus.