Gareth Emery Takes a Break from Trance With New Album ‘Drive’
Drive Album Review
- Gareth Emery’s sophomore album release following 2010’s Northern Lights
- Drive is purely progressive house, although contains some trance elements throughout
- Bursting at the seams with musicality
- melody-driven and layered with powerful vocals
- Perfect balance of upbeat and mellow tracks
- Be sure to catch Gareth Emery on Coachella‘s live stream April 11th & 18th
I want to start this review from the end. After listening to this album half a dozen times, I would say that reflection is the main theme of Drive. It’s about smiling back at the road in which you came after the adventure comes to a close. “Long Way Home” perfectly encapsulates the happiness I get after a wild and spontaneous adventure. It brought me back to that drive home through the desert after an unforgettable weekend at Electric Daisy Carnival in 2012 which also happened to be the first time I saw Gareth Emery live. The bouncy synth and thoughtful chords accompanied by a full, but not overpowering kick drum produce a rhythm in “Long Way Home” much like what you experience while looking out the open window on a long road trip. Listening, I am in a state of pure calmness and making the whole feeling complete, the words “Bring me back…” began ringing harmoniously right as nostalgia met the present thought. For me, it is definitely one of the most wide-awake songs to be released in recent memory. It’s appropriate too, in that Gareth Emery just recently went on a cross-country road trip with his wife before releasing the album.
Gareth Emery shows what electronic music can be when artists focus on building layers of carefully crafted sounds rather than devote their energy to a drop leaving everything else by the wayside. That being said, the album isn’t perfect, but what I do like is how fluid it rings from start to finish. The album never feels disjointed and as a body of work each song represents a fractal of the whole. As a single, each can stand on its own, but the best way to listen to this album is from start to finish. That being said, there are some tracks I’m not crazy about. The first few tracks in particular could have been omitted on my honest opinion. Their fault isn’t the quality of their production, but rather their formulaic structure.
“Entrada”, the opener, is one of those high-octane, big room house tracks that I’m sure would sound great at a festival especially if he opened with it. It’s great at building adrenaline and I’m sure will get a live crowd amped, but I can’t get over the fact it sounds like just another Swedish House Mafia clone… Second on the track list is the single featuring Christina Novelli called “Dynamite.” I like the introduction and how her voice flows with the almost Latin House rhythm. Gareth Emery does great work adding resonance to the vocals and even the gate effect as she chimes, “All for you” works well without overdoing it. The thing I just can’t get over with this song is the chorus. The lyrics are just far too cheesy for my liking. That said I really like the bright piano keys sprinkled throughout the song.
Eye of the Storm
“Eye of the Storm” grew on me. I will admit the intro sounds awfully similar to David Guetta’s Memories, but this song marks the point at which the albums starts to heat up. Gavin Beach’s voice meshes perfectly with the piano and the power ballad that follows gives the song a powerfully uplifting tone that I think works well. Gareth Emery tried several singers before going with Gavin and I think he made a great choice. In some ways, it reminds me of Armin’s “This Is What It Feels Like”.
“Javelin”, with its fat synths and otherwise basic house beat would seem to get old fast if it weren’t for its catchy break down a minute-forty in that added some compelling elements to the track. I found myself fast-forwarding to that part a few times and wondering why it wasn’t elaborated on more fully. After listening to the next song on the list, I started to think maybe it belongs in the next track…
“Beautiful Rage” is a track Gareth has been working on for a few years and the polish shines through the ghostly vocals of LJ Ayrten. The quirky strings provide the bassy backbone for a track that I think is the first highlight of the album. This is where I would have loved to see the breakdown in Javelin show up, whether it would actually work or not is anybody’s guess, but it seems to fit with the track. What I love most about this song is how the lyrics and melody foil each other so well in the most subtle way possible. LJ sings of dancing in flames and stars dying out, painting a rather bleak picture of artistic destruction, but the melody, especially the synthesizer, provides a rather uplifting tone, which to me, signifies how in death and destruction, rebirth and light can shine through creating unexpected new possibilities.
The song “U” follows a similar motif as “Beautiful Rage, but I didn’t find it is as successful just because it lacked any real subtlety in its execution. That said, it is still a beautiful song featuring the gorgeous vocals of Bo Bruce. I think where it lacks in delivery is the guitar solo, which to me, felt overdone and out of place.
“Million Years” was another one of my favorites featuring the sweet vocals of Asia Whiteacre. I’m in love with her voice. She reminds me a lot of Foxes, the girl behind Clarity and the song “Youth” that Adventure Club remixed a few years back. The original demo for the track was created in a hotel room in Thailand that he finished while in the studio in Sydney. The song like many on the album starts off atmospheric and transitions smoothly into a pulsing electro track that any crowd will respond well to.
“Firebird” features a simple melody, but the way Gareth Emery keeps it interesting is though the smooth transition of several different versions of instrumentation. Starting off with plucked strings it quickly leads into this polyphonic chime that sounds just utterly cool. Next flows, the lead guitar followed by a synth below to create an innovative structure in sound design. As a pure, driving tune, this has to be my favorite upbeat track on the album. You should give this song a listen and tell me those chimes a minute-thirty in aren’t the coolest thing.
Lights & Thunder
“Lights and Thunder”, a track that’s been catching a lot of buzz lately and another highlight of the album, features a hypnotic array of 8-bit sounds interrupted by the voice of Krewella, arguably one of the best vocalists in popular electronic music at the moment and here, she does not fail to live up to the hype. I think it’s the rawness of her voice that adds to her likability while still sounding sincere as she belts the chorus. There is also some skrillex-esque vocal editing here that I think works well. The springy thunderous bass is also a very appropriate placement in this song. The lyrics are obviously nothing special or mind-blowing, but that hasn’t ever really been Krewella’s intent any way. It mentions the calm before the storm, just a detail, but I think they should have moved this track up to play before “Eye of the Storm”, but that’s honestly just a silly little critique. *(As a side note Omnia has made an excellent trance remix of this)
The four-year wait for Gareth Emery‘s new album has been well worth it and he has truly raised the bar in terms of what we can and should be expecting from the scene this year. The impeccable attention to detail, vocal heavy weights, and perfect balance of energetic and laid-back tracks are all reasons you should pick up and give Drive a listen from start to finish.
Overall score: 7.5/10
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