EP Review: Downhaul – Where We Started

Downhaul are an indie/emo pop group from North Carolina and Where We Started is their soon to be released third EP. It’s a pretty and well put together record that demonstrates a consistent development of the band’s existing sound and overall aesthetic. Where We Started is being self released on vinyl by Downhaul and is available via the band’s website from 16.02.18.

Downhaul combine the cyclical, twinkly guitar melodies of classic Midwestern emo bands like American Football along with the tone of emo-pop like Jimmy Eat World. There’s also something about the relaxed and subtle vocal delivery that alludes to country and old time and those who emulate that style through pop or punk. The overall result is a release that feels partly relaxed and calming, partly raw and stirring and draws from a healthy mixture of different influences to create something unique.

“Double Time” begins with a nice vocal melody underlayed with simple guitar, a gentle introduction to the record. There is a really neat stop at the end of the introductory section with a yelled harmony that segues smoothly into the main portion of the song. Lyrically it addresses the liberation in feeling anonymous somewhere, musings on locality and the appeal and inherent selfishness of desiring transience.

“SMAK” has some really cool riffs and noodly guitar parts, as well as some catchy sing-along harmonies. It’s somewhere between pop punk ala Good Luck and emo revival in the vein of Into It. Over It. The lyrics have a pleasant, thoughtful but rambling quality to them, mundane but meaningful, which fits nicely with the primary singer’s relaxed delivery and perhaps once again reminds of trad and country vocal stylings.

“Park” feels a little less riff driven than the previous 2 tracks, so while there are some really nice guitar parts there’s a bit more space for the bass to shine through. This is particularly clear during the mid-song bridge and break, where there’s a little extra room for the bass and percussion before moving neatly into the shouty, harmonised vocal melodies that finish up the last stages of the song.

“Coming Home” opens with a nice guitar refrain and vocal melody that is both simple and catchy and provides a stark, pleasant contrast to the shouted vocals and intricate guitar on the following section. The brief breakdown followed by melodic but shouted sing-along outro work really nicely and I think fit a little bit better with the overall tone than the parts made up exclusively of yelled vocals.

Overall some of the strongest sections on Where We Started are when the somewhat low primary vocals are backed with the higher emo-pop style harmonies. There are plenty of good riffs and parts, in addition to the nice breaks, stops and textures appearing throughout. The shoutiest bits do seem a little superfluous at times when the poppy sections are so lovely on their own, but overall it’s a really coherent and well thought out sound. The lyrics and tone of Where We Started make this a catchy and cheering listening experience despite some of the subject matter, and while the name Downhaul itself has implications of downward momentum the overarching tone here feels positive and upbeat. It’s a polished and affirming record for all fans of contemporary emo-pop.

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Liam Pritchett

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