Local electronic act Emerson Jay has certainly been busy lately. Their first full-length album is approaching completion. Last week, they played at Thrival Festival, on a lineup alongside heavyweight headliners Logic, Wiz Khalifa, and Two Door Cinema Club. They earned the spot after winning a WYEP-sponsored contest (amid stiff competition) in which listeners of the public radio station voted for their favorite local act to perform on Friday evening. And to top it all off, they recently released a music video for their brand new track, “FREVER WHEN.”
The infectious, dance-friendly, multi-layered and engrossing electronic goodness that longtime listeners have come to expect is definitely delivered here, in packaging that’s equal parts peppy and cool. “FREVER WHEN” is faster, higher, and more straightforwardly energetic than their previous release, “Alright,” though the lyrical focus is somewhat similar—a connection not quite fully realized, that the speaker wishes to make right. But rather than re-establishing something that’s been strained, here he’s impatient to get things started in the first place: “I don’t wanna wait forever, can we hold it down?/Hold me closer, take my hand/let’s move around, round, round, round.” He invokes important moments (“You held my hand, under the stars/as we wandered in the dark/All this time I can’t forget about it”), reasons for delay (“Remember when we used to hide/up inside our mind/can’t imagine why”), and appeals not to wait any longer (“Let’s make up for those same times/searching far and wide/in another life.”) The increased pace parallels the increased excitement and intensity of the speaker’s feelings.
Instrumentally, the song is slick and seamlessly-produced, with EJ’s knack for flow and build on full display. Slow wavering synths provide a cool backdrop for faster, more pointed key riffs and prominent multilayered percussion. Repeated rhythmic distorted vocals flit in and out during the interludes, and hold steadier (with fewer effects) when they’re in the spotlight. Small, unique touches throughout add dimension and interest as well. There’s a passionate squeal of electric guitar at the beginning (an instrument that’s not usually the focus in EJ songs), along with a really cool short percussive riff that drops you down into the chorus (which might be my favorite part of the whole track.) Balancing appropriate, attention-grabbing twists with an immersive, cohesive flow can be tricky. But once again, Emerson Jay proves capable of pulling it off.
The video itself is fairly simple in concept: a silhouette of lead singer/songwriter/synth player Jared Gulden’s profile, in front of a screen with shifting light patterns and images, which are synchronized to the track. Undulating psychedelic swirls in shades of pink, blue, and purple alternate with rotating cross-hatched light stripes in similar colors. Occasionally this pattern is mixed up with inverted hues, white boxes moving across black backgrounds, and other geometric effects. Much like with EJ’s song production, nothing about these visuals seems accidental. Every change and movement lines up with the beat, and sometimes with shifts in mood and the song overall. For instance, the second repetition of the subdued, confessional prechorus gets a one-take, plain white background, which puts both visual and audio focus on Gulden’s singing and what he’s saying. Meanwhile, the mostly-instrumental mid-song interlude features several cuts, changing backgrounds, and flips and rotations of the silhouette, highlighting the jumpiness of the beat and distorted background vocals. Onscreen text pops up a few times too, which is charming in its slight kitsch, not overdone, and also perfectly timed to the beat. And despite us only seeing the outline of his head (topped with a baseball cap) and shoulders, Gulden gives an animated performance. His nods and intermittent dance moves are energetic and authentic: you can tell he’s into the song and enjoying himself. Those sentiments prove to be contagious. He stands up (still in shadow) as the song ends, and walks off frame, providing a satisfying conclusion. The thought and attention put into each of these choices is clear, proving that simple concepts, executed with purpose and precision, can be very effective.