An acoustic album is always a bit of a gamble. To take songs that fans are already attached to and release them in alternate versions runs the risk of losing what they fell in love with in the first place. The Early November have never been afraid of taking that risk. The band released an acoustic EP in 2005 and more recently a full-length acoustic album, Fifteen Years, in celebration of their 15th anniversary.
When the band released The Acoustic EP they included in it a note explaining why they wanted to share stripped down versions of their songs. It read: “Since all of our songs are written on an acoustic guitar, we thought it would be cool to release a version of our EP the way the songs originally sounded.” Fifteen Years is an extension of that concept; it represents each album from the band’s long and successful career while showing just how skilled they are at creating a lot with very little.
Fifteen Years sets an easy pace within the first couple tracks. “Narrow Mouth,” typically loud and brooding, steps back into a softer and more forlorn sound. Meanwhile “Outside” boasts a slight twang, with playful harmonies and delicately layered melodies.
“Boxing Timelines” is an instant favorite, with its placid backing vocals a comfort despite the song’s moody and introspective theme. With lines like “I know it’s hard to hold on/All my thoughts are really sad/How I wish we could just stay young,” it fits neatly into an album meant to mark the passing of time.
Another stand out is “Frayed In Doubt,” from 2012’s In Currents. Hazy and somewhat hollow, the track ebbs and flows until Enders is practically screaming in its final moments, “Just float along/You wont’ be alone/We’re all going down the same lonely road.” The brief pause in the guitars leaves him utterly isolated, despite assuring listeners that they won’t be alone. The effect is chilling.
“Figure It Out” is another that sounds more at home as an acoustic track than it does in its full band form. Punctuated by the sound of hands scratching across the guitar strings, “Figure It Out” is sad and lonely. Its despondent picking melody and Enders softly crooning “I’m not giving up/I’m just losing this” are heartbreaking in a way that the full version never quite managed to capture.
The band closes out the album by revisiting two of their most popular tracks: “Sunday Drive” and “Ever So Sweet.” Though both were already featured on The Acoustic EP, there was no way they could be excluded from a record meant to celebrate The Early November’s 15th anniversary. Both have mellowed with age, leaving all of the anger behind until sadness seems to be the only thing left.
There’s something inherently nostalgic about acoustic music, and The Early November took that feeling one step further by putting together this collection of songs from throughout their career. The quiet passion within each chord makes you long for something you can’t quite grasp. Though they’ve laid these songs out in their barest states, they somehow sound fuller than ever – a true testament to their skills as songwriters. It’s exciting to think what the next fifteen years could bring.