Three and a half stars
A bell-like guitar heralds the arrival of "Run," the sunsoaked rocker that kicks off the set and one of the many highlights therein. Ivins' vocals sound more full bodied and confident this time, replacing Late Night Drive's falsetto atmospherics with fist-pumping choruses and a more optimistic lyrical outlook. Pounding pianos accent the song's bridge, while a drum section and a distant vocal harmony dissolve the song and give way to the anthemic guitar sound that kicks off the next cut, "The Sight of Fire." Rarely do transitions sound this good or well planned, and "The Sight of Fire" actually ends up being a better song thanks to the extended lead in that "Run" provides. The song (also the first single), is a perfect showcase of Ivins' ability to wrap difficult subject matter up in pop sensibility. Late Night Drive embraced darkness and sadness more completely, in both sound and content, while Everything We Wanted is a heavily produced, muscular set up pop-rock songs that could easily end up on the radio, but bits and pieces of that darkness still creep in here. "The Sight of Fire" is a song about the debilitating effects of addiction, a fact that passed me by until the song's key line ("Cause it's funny how we kill ourselves/When we're trying to feel alive") hit me and made me pay attention. Everything We Wanted is a catchy and sonically pleasing record from the get go, but it's also extremely lyrically driven, and it became much more resonant to me when I really paid attention to that aspect.
Three of the songs here ("Run," "Rollercoaster," "It's Getting Better") have been re-recorded from Ivins' first solo album, and while there is a notable difference in lyrical maturity between these songs and the new material (especially with "Rollercoaster," where Ivins indulges in a few cliches, only to directly acknowledge that he's doing so), it isn't jarring. Ivins has gone on record saying that the duality of the songs and their content means to represent the journey his life has taken in the years since he started writing. Where "Run" is a song about feeling young, immortal, and limitless, and where "Rollercoaster" is an irresistible depiction of first love, many of the other songs on this record are coming from a man who has lost one of the most important people in his life and been battered by the world around him. In that respect, it's a record about growing up and coming of age, where the naiveté of those three songs gives way to songs about a person who understands that life really can get hard some times, but who is still fighting through and searching for the good.
But even as Ivins seeks to find himself in these songs, the ghost of his mother still hangs heavily over the proceedings. Never is this more evident than on the title track, which carries the record out in a moving and uplifting fashion. It's a song about picking up the pieces of your life in the wake of tragedy, and in that respect, it's really a sequel to "House of Three." Where the last EP ended with Ivins packing up his life and driving away because he couldn't face the grief anymore, here he's mastered that pain and is ready to move on. As the song floats through a couple of stunning verses and an anthemic chorus, carried along by the talents of his band and the pristine, radio-ready production of Pedro Aida (Carbon Leaf), he finally comes to the realization that life really does go on. And when he sings "I'm not dead yet/Now I'm finally alive" at the song's climactic moment, it's both a catharsis and a commencement to a new life. While most of my listening tends to revolve around full length albums rather than EPs, and while I do really wish Everything We Wanted lasted beyond its 23 minute runtime, these seven songs constitute a musical journey that is both relatable and fully formed, and the result is my favorite EP of the year so far; I can only hope that The Jim Ivins Band gets the attention they deserve for it.