‘White Line Fever’ album review
album: White Line Fever
release date: June 5, 2020
star rating: three out of five
review by Levi Yager
Emery goes all the way back to the beginning for their latest album. White Line Fever takes the listener on a trip through the triumphs and trials the band experienced when they initially decided to risk it all for music. Though it’s not their most accessible album they’ve released, White Line Fever successfully captures both the youthful excitement and world-weary wisdom of touring in a band.
We start off strong and determined with “This Town” and “The Road Beneath My Feet.” I’m sure you can see the album’s aforementioned theme here; these tracks are about getting up and out of your hometown to chase a dream – and everything that entails. “This Town” blows in with breezy piano and sets a somewhat blues-y mood that sticks around throughout the album. On the other hand, “The Road Beneath My Feet” surges forward with punchy rhythms, including punk-style drumming in the verses.
Then, there’s some hit-and-miss going on. I couldn’t find anything exceptionally bad in White Line Fever, but a number of songs don’t go much farther than just decent. The third song, “The Noose” is an example. It loses some of the album’s momentum due to pacing, although the song’s second half helps with this as it picks up with energized, scaling guitars and solid vocals. As one might expect from Emery, even the lesser cuts have ingenious structural components and neat melodic aspects, but they just don’t have great staying power compared to other songs here.
The fourth and fifth tracks flesh out the middle of the album as highlights. “Some of Us,” the former, touches on the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, which occurred around the same time that the guys in the band left the Southeast region of the U.S.A. to travel up to the Northwest where they would establish themselves as a group of musicians. “Some of Us” is a picture of life-change in the midst of widespread mourning, and Emery expresses the moment’s complexity from a personal perspective. The lyrics in the bridge have a lasting impact: “And we drove into the sunset as the brothers and the sisters softly wept. Some of us are starting fresh, but some of us will never wake again.” The potent mix of pain and hope in this song makes an engrossing experience for the listener.
“Now What” follows, and I think it’s my favorite song on White Line Fever. It turns the tone a shade or two darker, and the lyrics are about making sense of yourself in the present moment. I love the aggressive parts juxtaposed with the soft segments. This dynamic pushes and pulls you through the song until the coda brings a gentle dissipation.
Everything from here on out is fine at the very least. The last big standouts are numbers eight and 11, though I’m compelled to mention the 10th song, “Voices in the Air,” as well. It may not come off as an immediate standout, but it’s one of the most original compositions on White Line Fever regardless.
“Make Yourself Sick” is the eighth track, and it fully settles into the darker side of the album, which was heard previously in tracks like “Now What.” This one’s a slower song that cuts to the heart of brutal introspection, and it creates an atmosphere of emptiness to wallow in. Yet, the song’s finale comes through like a spotlight, flashing on for a few seconds before shutting off to finish with the same guitar plucking from the song’s intro. It’s worth noting that the lyrics in “Make Yourself Sick” contain allusions to Emery’s first LP, which is kind of cool. “Sad Season” is the 11th and final track. It’s definitely one of the softest songs on the record, which isn’t unusual for a closer. “Sad Season” leans harder into the blues sound of White Line Fever and features spacious sections with plenty of breathing room. It focuses on the impermanence of life and what we can learn from different experiences as we pass through. “Sad Season” is really a magnificent last song, complete with reverent, resounding synthesizers in the distance to bring it all to a close.
I’m satisfied with White Line Fever. It’s a good record with a unique place in the band’s catalog, even though it might not be my first pick when I want to listen to Emery. You may have gathered by now that there aren’t many screams or heavy sections, a fact which will vary in significance from listener to listener. Instead, we have an overall softer approach, complemented by the lovely use of piano cropping up every so often. As a side note, the album feels pretty brief by the end of it, but that’s neither here nor there. On the downside, it tends to drag at certain points, yet this occasional flaw thankfully doesn’t overcome the album as a whole. White Line Fever is ultimately a thoughtful work of art that also feels cohesive in style, and fans should give it a shot.