“Nothing ever happens until it happens to you” bellows Bradley Walden on “Miracle,” the second single off 131, the newest release from his band Emarosa. It’s an exhilarating moment on one of the album’s most electrifying tracks. It can also be interpreted as the main thesis behind 131 – professionally (Emarosa) and personally (Walden). 131 is the second album to feature Walden as the band’s lead vocalist after original vocalist Jonny Craig was kicked out for a myriad of reasons. It was a fight or flight moment for the band and they struck gold when they tapped Walden to handle vocal duties, and the band’s third LP, Versus, followed soon after. That record was a very respectable release but you can hear that both the band and Walden were still in that adjustment period stage and trying to feel each other out. Versus was the beginning of the band’s shift away from post-hardcore into more of a fluid pop-influence, but without losing any of their aggressiveness. And 131 is the fully realized version of that sound — Walden and company have grown together to create one of the most powerful and honest albums of year.
A lot of this has to do with not only Walden’s vocals, but the deeply personal lyrics throughout 131. Walden intimately explores the topic of death, loss, and much more throughout the album’s tracks. The aforementioned “Miracle” includes heartbreaking lines like, “And babe, I feel our miracle fade in you” during the track’s crushing chorus, while the soaring “Sure” lends an optimistic passage of “I think we’ll meet again, I’m sure.” 131 is an incredibly raw and cathartic experience for Walden, which not only brought out the best in the Emarosa vocalist but also his bandmates.
Throughout the band’s history, Emarosa has never shied away from pushing the limits of their post-hardcore sound. However, Versus didn’t feel completely natural, as if they didn’t want to stray too far from their sound. But with producer extraordinaire Casey Bates behind the boards and a more solidified approach with Walden, 131 pushes Emarosa completely past the post-hardcore genre and introduces even more R&B and gospel influence. Opening track “Hurt” begins with Walden’s unmistakable croon before launching into an anthem that could fill stadiums. It sets the tone for the entirety of 131 and is the beginning of a high the band never comes down from. And you can feel that gospel influence reverberate throughout your body during the handclaps and gang vocals on the soulful “Helpless,” as Walden exclaims, “And I guess we’re gonna make it after all.”
131 may be the most diverse alt-rock record you hear this year, as each of the album’s eleven tracks deliver memorable moment after moment. From the chills-inducing ballad “Porcelain” and the simmering “Never” (featuring beautiful guest vocals from Walden’s wife, Amy Meeko, along with scintillating string work from Yellowcard’s Sean Mackin), to heavy-hitters like “Cloud 9” and the explosive “Young Lonely” (two tracks reminiscent of Anberlin and Acceptance’s very best work, with Jason Vena contributing vocals on the latter). The eccentric nature of album is driven by ER White’s excellent guitar work and Jordan Stewart’s luscious work on the keys, as 131 will have something for everyone.
So while the band opened up musically throughout 131, Walden reveals all his vulnerabilities and tackles the subjects of depression, loneliness (“Hurt”), and loss (“Miracle”) but he manages to find strength within the pain (“Young Lonely”) while remaining hopeful (“Helpless” and “Sure”) and continually expressing his appreciation and love for his wife (“Never”). He reflects on it all on closer “Re,” a thrilling culmination of 131 to borrows lyrics from the album’s previous ten tracks, resulting in a dazzling display of TREOS-inspired instrumentation as it wraps up the powerful album.
It’ll be difficult to find another record that bleeds with this much raw and honest power this year. What separates 131 from its peers is the amount of soul oozing from it – Bradley Walden’s vocals have elevated Emarosa to the top of its genre, emerging with one of the very best albums of 2016. If anything, 131 is a reminder that you can experience all hell has to offer and not only come back alive from it but as an even better person than before.