by Katie Hanford
I first heard "Waiting" on one of Post-Trash's monthly playlists. From the onset my head was bobbing along to the beat, unable to resist the fat guitars and intriguing hits that outlined the rhythm. All too soon, the track was over. Almost thirty minutes later, I found myself in the same position in front of my laptop, having hit repeat over a dozen times. There was far too much to unpack in one listen. For me, the title of the track defined the weeks leading up to the release of Vivid Trace: I was hooked so deep that I waited, and waited, and waited with increasingly heightened anticipation for the album to drop.
Seth Engel, a multi-instrumentalist and musical mastermind who has contributed to too many projects to name here, shines his brightest in Options. His music hits just the right spot for any mood, a fluctuation he can achieve even within one track. Take "Waiting" as an example. The chunky riff is repeated throughout the track, taking on different lives each time it is played through tiny adjustments in style. The intro is played loosely, opening up to a slow thrash that turns head bobs into bangs. Suddenly, a crash followed by a moment of silence; and that same riff (with the same distortion) is now played with a palm-muted crunch that quiets the track, allowing the build to the next thrash to blow our fucking minds. These kind of stylistic transitions seem to be Engel's signature move, as the album swerves from sweet indie ballads to Midwest-flavored emo jams without skipping a beat. Engel is a master at blending his influences in a cohesive and original sense while still maintaining a strong pop satisfaction that keeps listeners coming back for more.
Like his other releases, Vivid Trace shows us that Engel really can do it all. His songwriting capabilities shine strongly through rhythmically intricate structures, indicating to me that a solid drummer truly is the backbone of a good emo project. Featuring guitar riffs that build each other up with tones that ensure they remain distinct, backed by vocal melodies that hook into your ears for days and a production value that leaves room for sludge and twinkle all within the same moment, this too-short album (only 29 minutes) is near perfection.
Some food for thought: although Engel has made most of his musical imprints as a resident of Chicago, did his suburban Philadelphia upbringing give him the emo sensibilities he needed to create such a great representation of the genre? I may be projecting my hometown pride here, but perhaps there's something in the water in southeastern PA. Regardless of the reason, we cannot deny Options' monumental contribution to the modern scene. And thankfully for us, Engel has his hands in enough projects to satisfy any Options fan for years to come.