North Carolina prospects Pictures of Vernon have returned with their second EP, a self titled project that further progresses their fusion of emo and post-hardcore. Pictures of Vernon’s 2015 debut EP, The Days Are Just Packed was quite an impressive starting point for the trio (consisting of Anderson Ragan, Joel Ragan, and Daniel Gorham). Though it slightly lacks in some production quality, The Days Are Just Packed is still a powerful, emotionally driven set of tracks that features personal lyrics and surprisingly technical performances. With that debut, the band has crafted a solid launch pad and their follow up could catapult them into full fledged contenders in the emo genre.
At first listen, Pictures of Vernon shows clear influence from classic emo artists like Sunny Day Real Estate, American Football, and Mineral. The guitar work is reminiscent of early math rock acts though it carries a sense of melancholy that keeps it rooted in emotion. Though it draws inspiration from these artists, Pictures of Vernon still sound like more contemporary emo artists like The Hotelier and Tigers Jaw. Many of the songs begin with precise guitar plucking and then slowly build to passionate bursts of expressionistic vocals. What’s nice about this band is that while their instrumentation can be quite technical, possibly drawing comparisons to an act like Arrows in Her, the sound still feels raw and stripped down. It’s a solid balance of carefully constructed instrumentation and honest, heartfelt performances.
The first few tracks, “Mr. Alwaysright” and “Krelboyne Picnic,” are both good examples of what the band offers. These tracks are occasionally complicated with their instrumentals though they’re catchy enough to remain accessible to a wide array of listeners. At their core, both tracks resemble pure indie rock and emo at its finest. The band takes more of a post-harcore approach with “Public School,” a song that emphasizes screamed vocals. What’s interesting about this track however is the juxtaposition between the instrumentals and the singing. While other post-hardcore acts like Touche Amoure or La Dispute combine their screams/spoken word elements with bleak instrumentation to create a somber atmosphere, Pictures of Vernon counters their screamed vocals with a brighter sound. The vocals are layered over more amiable instrumentation which delivers a unique balance.
The final track, “This is Water” draws comparisons to The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die thanks to its detailed progression. This track paints a stunning picture. It includes many tonal shifts, from Anderson Ragan’s curiously wonderful vocals towards the beginning, to the complicated guitar work that closes out the song. For a band of only three members, Pictures of Vernon create a remarkably layered soundscape. The track lures in listeners and takes them on a pleasurably engaging journey. A track like “This is Water” shows how good Pictures of Vernon can get when it comes to structuring their material. By following the intricate style presented on this track, the band could definitely produce even more fleshed out projects from this point on.
My complaints for Pictures of Vernon’s sophomore EP are fairly limited. It’s evident that the band is still in its developing stages. Each track is relatively short and it would be nice if some of them featured a more stable foundation. Some tracks, aside from the final one, feel like they could have been drawn out slightly more before ending somewhat abruptly. It’s quite clear that Pictures of Vernon are educated songwriters and they definitely show potential to expand upon their sound. While Pictures of Vernon isn’t reinventing the “emo wheel” it’s still a promising output from the band. With two solid EPs under their belt, it’s only a matter of time before Pictures of Vernon release a full length album and I personally have high hopes for them. Their narrative lyrics already show signs of promise if/when they’ll be placed in the context of a full LP and the band’s complex instrumentation shows that they have more than enough talent to carry them in future endeavors. Both EPs have definitely raised the bar for Pictures of Vernon, but they undoubtedly have the talent to surpass expectations.