The West Long Branch New Jersey indie jazz-pop four-piece The Emily Youth Project is staffed by Mike Grant on keyboard and vocals, Justin Murray on guitar and backing vocals, Jon Bass on bass, Andy Jackle on drums and James Alfaro on trombone. Jon Bass and Justin Murray are childhood friends and have been playing together since middle school. Michael Grant grew up in the neighboring town and was active in the theater and playing solo gigs.
Drummer Andy Jackle began as a fill-in because drummers are hard to come by, especially good drummers and after a time the trio reeled him in to become part of their jazz-pop harem. To date The Emily Youth Project’s biggest claim to fame is opening for the eccentrically sweet pop rock outfit Guster, after winning a contest which was judged by Guster. Not a bad deal really.
The Emily Youth Project released their eponymous five-song debut back in 2015 and their latest effort is another five-song EP simply titled The Emily Youth Project, Number 2. The EP opens with the two-minute instrumental “Tunnel Jam.” The tune is straightforward and recalls a bit of waiting room or elevator music. Its head bobbing enough with its combo of reggae guitar and bass fitted with piano and trombone licks and frolicking drum fills, but as it evolves it takes on a slightly metal tinge.
The transition from the previous offering into “Tunnel Vision” is pretty smooth as the band mellows out a bit playing slippery smooth jazz-pop-standard grooves as Grant, who proves to be a rather likable vocalist, treats his listeners to the common frets of everyday life. Next the band tackles a bit of metal territory with “Stuck” lashing out if only briefly and then pulling back into the more comfortable territory of pop.
The brightest spot on on The Emily Youth Project, Number 2 though is the piano driven pop centric “I Can’t Feel My Heart” a self-contained and simple song that just seems to have all the proper elements a pop song needs to survive. Not to be outdone they close it out with the acoustic lounge-inspired “Brand New Friend,” which I imagine was the nail in the coffin for winning the opening slot for Guster.
With The Emily Youth Project, Number 2, The Emily Youth Project seem to be finding themselves as the record progresses. I can’t fault them for taking chances and trying to dirty up their sound with a bit of guitar, but it only mars the melodic beauty these well trained musicians perhaps don’t yet realize they have.
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