Tag Archives: Coheed & Cambria

List-less

Isn’t it a little to early for those end-of-the-year or end-of-the-decade critics list? Didn’t September just roll around? August hadn’t even ended before Pitchfork rolled out it’s top singles of the 2000s.

Doesn’t it all seem a little too, well, soon? It’s still just September! There are four full months left in the decade! Some kid in the middle of Mississippi could be making the best damn pop tune of the century with a jug and Garageband tomorrow, but for some reason the lists are done. Final. Sorry jug players of tomorrow, today’s history lesson is over.

I get why people make lists. It’s not even necessarily about “being the authority,” especially these days where anyone with an Internet connection and the ability to string verbs, nouns, punctuation, and numbers together with a complete thought can upload their list to every foreseeable computer. (Though in some small sense, anyone who makes a list wants to be the authority on their list.)

In most cases it’s because making these lists are fun. How do you think the guys in High Fidelity manage to get along each and every day without going ballistic? Top 5 lists! I know it’s fun because I’ve done it (on this blog no less). It’s especially fun to go back and see what you thought was the end-all-be-all of a particular year and how your tastes have changed over time. These aren’t the final word on anything. No way, no how. (Though consensus always brings “the classics” to the public, and you can’t go wrong there.)

But of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t get flustered at some lists. Take this one by Stephen Ortiz which cropped up on UConn’s The Daily Campus site: “Great Emo Anthems.” Whilest asking himself what the best emo songs of the past decade were, Ortiz came up with this list:

1. Taking Back Sunday – “Cute Without The ‘E’”

2. The Used – “The Taste of Ink”

3. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue”

4. Senses Fail – “Can’t Be Saved”

5. A Day To Remember – “I’m Made Of Wax, Larry, What Are You Made Of?”

Huh?

What?

Really?

There are always things one finds questionable with lists like these. But I have to wonder what Ortiz was thinking with this list. Let’s just take a think here for a second. Take out A Day To Remember, because, really, what? And as far as Yellowcard, they were always considered widely to be more pop-punk than emo; that’s the “all sensitivity is emo” argument, and in that style of pop punk, wasn’t New Found Glory always considered to be more “emo” than Yellowcard?

What’s left? Nothing I could really consider top 5 emo anthems. “The Taste of Ink” may have been a hit, but it doesn’t place anywhere near top 5 (I’m surprised the band is still around to be perfectly honest). But “Cute without the ‘E’” was always something of a tune beloved by diehard TBS fans. And Senses Fail… I won’t bother there.

But are these anthems? Take a look at the definition of the word:

1 a rousing or uplifting song identified with a particular group, body, or cause : the song became the anthem for hippie activists.

I’d hardly call any of these anthems. I can think of 5 emo songs from this decade that are more anthemic to the general population (nevermind emo fans) than these songs fairly quickly. Let’s take a gander, and in no particular order:

Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle” (really, that song was inescapable in ’02)

Dashboard Confessional – “Hands Down” (wasn’t this the dude that made emo the thing at the start of the decade? Yes, I believe so)

Coheed & Cambria – “A Favor House Atlantic” (fairly inescapable in 03/04)

Say Anything – “Alive With The Glory Of Love” (is one of the few pop songs of the decade that had a 2nd life; once when it came out as a song on an independent record in 04, and then again when the album was reissued on a major label)

Taking Back Sunday – “A Decade Under The Influence” (dur)

See? Fairly easy. I even tossed in a TBS song more non-fans are probably familiar with. And this was all done without thinking what is a better song or a song I enjoy more, but instead what most people would call an anthem. There were so many great “emo” songs of the decade that any list would be missing some stuff. People will no doubt forget the Maritimes, Jeremy Enigks, Pedro The Lions, hell, even the Fugazis when making these lists… and well, that’s the way it goes.

I will probably make a list or two towards the end of the year. Probably nothing as monolithic as a “best albums of the decade,” because my rabid interest in music and knowledge of what was coming out every day wasn’t like what it is today. But, something will crop up. And I’ll be sure to have fun with it.

Bloody Buddy

I’d been bidding my time, putting off writing about the new musical, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

Why?

I’m not sure really. The musical sounds interesting enough, and The New York Times gave it a sparkling review. And for such a mainstream interpretation of emo, it’s got the idea of the genre in its current form down-pat; glittery pop-punk, that layers the romantic angst on thick… it’s a shame to admit that emo’s transformed into that, but in many cases, one particular strain of that is true to that form.

 

Image taken from The New York Times article

Image taken from The New York Times article

And the music certainly reflects that and it’s page-to-stage kind of performance. As Emo! The Musical creator Joey Price said in an earlier interview:

…they [emo and musicals] also have a lot in common since they both involve this incredibly over-emotionality.

To each interpretation his (or her) own, as long as they can cop to their self-induced standard, I guess… though I tend to disagree whole-heartedly. It appears to work in these two cases, especially the former, as The Times’ Ben Brantley dished out the usual tropes and stereotypes for his take on emo in the musical realm:

Emo, for those of you who don’t download your songs, is a postpunk rock variant that wears its shattered heart on its tattered sleeve, throbbing with the narcissism, masochism and frustrated powerlessness that come with being a teenager. The closest Broadway has come to incorporating emo was in Duncan Sheik’s score for the late (and much missed) “Spring Awakening,” a show about the agony of young lust.

Funny side note is that Spring Awakening is based on Igor Stravinsky’s The Rites of Spring, which was the nomenclature inspiration (and intellectual to boot) for the first emo band, Rites of Spring.

And, though these interpretations of emo are currently-mainstream-streamlined and stereotyped at best, their definitions do conform to their forms; Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson takes a look at the American President in the perspective of the man as a confused, hormone-induced and angsty teenager. And with a song number entitled “Populism Yea Yea,” it provides a nice little double-induced defition that boosts composer and lyricist Michael Friedman’s interpretation of emo to a state of understanding its natural meaning; his musical work is emo as interpreted in its most populist form. After all, more kids today can name drop Coheed & Cambria than Christie Front Drive.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is playing at the Public Theater in New York until May 24th… so only a few days left to catch what sounds like a pretty entertaining and endearing show. And it’s only $10, which (especially these days) is cheap, and that, if anything, is a model of “emo culture” from it’s emocore days (Fugazi’s famous $5 door charge) to today (the insanely cheap $30 or so for the dozens upon dozens of bands on Warped Tour).

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson opening night preview:

Just Short…

So, for folks who’ve been following along in this blog, I submitted a proposal to Continuum’s 33 1/3 series to write a book about The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good. Series editor David Barker emailed everyone who submitted a proposal today concerning those he picked to make it to the shortlist, the final compilation short of the 20 or so that Continuum will select to be turned into fully-fleshed out books (you can check out the shortlist). Unfortunately, my proposal wasn’t chosen for this list, for simple space reasons on the shortlist (I emailed David to find out specifics of why my proposal was turned down and it turns out it was one of a handful that barely missed the cut). In any case, I really enjoyed writing this proposal and speaking to those involved in creating the album about the process of writing a book on Nothing Feels Good. Rather than let it go to waste, I’ve decided to post my proposal here, below, for your enjoyment, complete with some multimedia elements that could not have been included in what was submitted to 33 1/3, but are helpful illustrators nonetheless. Enjoy it… and if anyone has any interest in further pursuing this project with me in some other forum, please feel free to contact me:

33 1/3 Book Proposal:

The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good

Guilty pleasures tend to rear their heads in an interview with music’s next big thing. So when a VBS TV correspondent was chatting it up with No Age, the uber-hip and critically acclaimed experimental punk duo from L.A., singer/drummer Dean Spunt interrupted guitarist Randy Randall’s ruminations on MC Hammer with a shocking revelation:

“I used to like The Promise Ring.”
Beat.
“Yeah, so did I,” replied the stylish interviewer.
The three guys proceeded to awkwardly chuckle and talk over each other until the interviewer brought up his stunning thought:
“Is it really at the point where MC Hammer is less embarrassing than The Promise Ring?”

Great question. And not unlike one I ask myself just about every time I crank up my stereo while playing 30 Degrees Everywhere or Wood/Water. What’s so embarrassing about The Promise Ring? It could be the band’s association with emo, the now-repugnant term for a post-hardcore genre that’s all but taken over the Billboard charts. It was the release of 1997′s Nothing Feels Good that the four “averages Joes” that made up The Promise Ring were presented with the title of poster boys of a genre once thought to be six feet under. The rest of the trials and tribulations of emo remain embedded in our international conscience thanks to numerous pop-punk acts influenced by The Promise Ring. Say what you will about your Fall Out Boys, My Chemical Romances, Dashboard Confessionals, Cute Is What We Aim Fors, Thrices, Taking Back Sundays, Panic! at the Discos, Saves the Days, Coheed & Cambrias, Alexisonfires, New Found Glorys, and Underoaths; when push comes to shove, most of these bands don’t come close to the potent passion, intelligence, and vibrancy of The Promise Ring and their sophomore effort, Nothing Feels Good.

Embarrassment aside, Spunt should have nothing to be ashamed of for name-dropping The Promise Ring as a band that’s clearly influenced the critically-lauded musician. The Promise Ring’s back catalog is filled with nugget and gems of post-hardcore-meets-pop bliss, and much like when No Age’s current work combining elements of pop with hardcore, the results are fantastic. Nothing Feels Good is The Promise Ring’s best and most succinct work, an anthemic, passionate burst of homegrown pop-punk, filtered through tales of existential crises, cross-country road trips, and references to modern Americana. The hooks are sharp, the lyrics poignant, and the performance still as unbelievably urgent as the day the original tapes were mastered over a decade ago.

Part of what’s so phenomenal about The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good is the impact the album had when it hit record stores in the fall of 1997. Neatly-packaged emo-pop amalgams are a dime a dozen these days, but there was nothing “neat” about Nothing Feels Good when it was released. Although the album’s music has the sugary-sweet taste of bubblegum pop that numerous artists today no doubt want to tap into, the band’s sound subverts the pretenses of slick pop on Nothing Feels Good with quick bursts of hardcore-influenced instrumentation that seem intent on spilling out of each track marking and into the life of the listener. To mis-quote The Promise Ring, it displays a sense that the band had of having no defined sense or absolute understanding of the world around them, but simply enjoying the view. Life’s peculiarities, ambiguities, and “big questions” aren’t shunned, but brought to the surface with keen observation. In frontman Davey von Bohlen’s hands and sweetly contorted lisp – a performance factor that only makes the music on Nothing Feels Good sound an umpteenth more sincere – The Promise Ring made an album of daring proportions and a musical document to the banalities, every day norms, and even celebrations of human existence not heard since Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Nothing Feels Good cover

Nothing Feels Good cover

Part of the story behind Nothing Feels Good is known, but little of it has a concentrated focus on the actual album or the band behind it. Beyond the musical content, Nothing Feels Good was a smashing success. For Jade Tree – The Promise Ring’s label – it meant financial stability, as the album surpassed their modest predictions and allowed the company to flourish, something of a miracle in the years following the alternative music buyout which had left many independent record labels for dead. For the national emo scene – a ragtag, ambiguous assemblage of independent artists around the U.S. – it legitimized their work in the face of the post-grunge milieu that ruled the radio waves and crippled mainstream creativity. For the members of The Promise Ring, it meant video premiers on MTV, critical acclamation, a position as one of the most creative bands operating in America’s underground music scene, and, much later, a place in cult-music lore for having inspired countless musicians to take emo (or whatever genre they called their own) in new and distinctly personal directions.

Although we’re still feeling the impact of Nothing Feels Good today, the known-narrative of the album’s creation is bare. What inspired the dozen songs on the album, and what transpired in their evolution from muddled creative concept into full-blown pop gold? What about the practices that hammered out the hooks, high-hats, and lo-fi hits in The Promise Ring’s oeuvre? What about the guys behind the instruments, their day-to-day existences and thoughts that no doubt burrowed their way into the band’s sophomore album? What were the moments before, during, and after 1997 that made Nothing Feels Good stand out from a mass of other bands and recordings that make up emo’s so-called second wave? What about each member’s upbringing, their lives in the Milwaukee area, relationships with friends, family, and significant-others? What made four young men band together to form The Promise Ring and create such a phenomenal release as heard in Nothing Feels Good?

These are the pivotal questions I’m seeking to answer with my book on The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good for Continuum’s 33 1/3 book series. Here is an album and a band who’s impact on music today in innumerable. Part of the unknown quality of The Promise Ring’s importance is due to the fact that these deep-seated questions have never been asked – or rather, published – on such a large-scale forum. Considering the fans that the band amassed since forming in 1995, a list that no doubt has been growing with every article, band, or cultural critic name-checking the quartet as one of indie rock’s great cult bands, The Promise Ring are more than due for their proper place in the rock narrative limelight. And the 33 1/3 series is the place I would like to bring the tale of The Promise Ring’s best album.

For this project, I plan on writing the kind of book that exemplifies the credence imbued in Nothing Feels Good. My model for this manuscript isn’t confined to the band-nostalgically-reminiscing-on-a-piece-of-the-past-type writing you may see in a lot of oral histories or straightforward music books out there. Certainly my work will represent the mold that previous 33 1/3 books have upheld, but I’m also inspired by the writing styles of the great new journalists and literary non-fiction pieces. In essence, I’m looking to produce a book that lives, breathes, eats, speaks, and plays music the way that the members of The Promise Ring did when they made Nothing Feels Good. I want to make someone who’s never heard the album feel as though they’ve been following the band since Day One, that they’re back in 1997 and sprinting to the record store in order to merely touch an album by a band that has touched them. Essentially, I want to write a book about The Promise Ring in the same way the band created their music.

My main informants for this project will be the members of The Promise Ring; as I want to get into their heads and extract information about their environment, attitudes, and memories, they will be my go-to source for the book. I’ve been in touch with Promise Ring singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen for well over a year, having recruited his current band (Maritime) for a concert and Davey himself for a previous writing project. I have been corresponding with von Bohlen about this proposal for well over a month, and he has given this project his supportive and enthusiastic seal of approval, and has gotten me in touch with the other members of The Promise Ring. At the moment that I’ve submitted this proposal, I’ve been in touch with two other Promise Ring members, Jason Gnewikow (guitar) and Dan Didier (drums), and both are quite enthusiastic about the project. I plan on having extensive interviews with these three members, as well as the two bass players who played in The Promise Ring during their Nothing Feels Good era, Scott Schoenbeck and Scott Beschta.

Although interviews with the members of The Promise Ring will constitute a large portion of my research, I plan on culling information from as many sources as possible in order to make the narrative more vibrant and colorful. I plan on soliciting interviews with not only those closely associated to the band, but also their detractors and adoring fans. Alongside a list that includes friends and family, I plan on speaking to Tim Owen and Darren Walters (Jade Tree owners), J. Robbins (Nothing Feels Good producer), Stuart Sikes (Nothing Feels Good engineer), Jessica Hopper (former publicist), Tim Edwards (former booking agent), Josh Modell (creator of Milk Magazine and close friend), along with musicians who’ve worked with, influenced, or been influenced by The Promise Ring, including Tim and Mike Kinsella (Cap’n Jazz), Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World), Bob Nanna (Braid), Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate), Matthew Pryor (The Get Up Kids), Eric Richter (Christie Front Drive), Eric Axelson (The Dismemberment Plan/Maritime), Chris Carrabba (Dashboard Confessional), Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy), Chris Simpson (Mineral), Chris Conley (Saves the Day), Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat/Fugazi), and countless others for their involvement in this project. Although not everyone listed is guaranteed to be involved, with my personal connections to some of the people previously listed and with the help from the former Promise Ring members, I will have an enormous number of people contributing to the book’s dialog.

Interviews aside, I plan on digging through swaths of information to aide in the creation of the book. Included will be the usual sources of information; articles on the band, reviews of their albums, zines, blogs, and any other published work that would enhance the narrative. But, I plan to go beyond those musings as well. I will approach the band members to see if I could use personal paraphernalia to help me spin a more personal yarn. This would include anything from old photographs, letters, journal entries, lyric sheets, music sheets, and even doodles scratched into scraps of paper they’ve kept through the years. I will also approach the narrative from the direction of an informed anthropologist by researching the socio-economic background of The Promise Ring’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Through census information, background information on area high school and college education systems, and the resources for youth in Wisconsin that was available at the same time Nothing Feels Good was in the making, I hope to gain a better sense of The Promise Ring’s background. I’ll also dig up information on American society’s views of Wisconsin and the Mid West and how that was reflected in the actions of those who lived there. It may seem onerous, but the brief scene in Wayne’s World that takes place in Milwaukee speaks volumes about the international perception of the place where The Promise Ring was formed. Throughout all of this, I hope to get a sense of why The Promise Ring did what they did, but from an entirely different perspective than the usual interview could warrant.

What I hope to accomplish after 15 months of research and writing is a work that can live up to how I felt after first popping Nothing Feels Good on the stereo, and something that will be as powerful as each subsequent listen to that album. My work may lack the aural quality of the album, but I hope it will be able to bring an entirely new sense of being to Nothing Feels Good, and one that will only boost the listening experience of longtime Promise Ring enthusiasts and bring some new fans to the album as well.

A Word on Words

Hey folks,

Gonna make this one quick and then I’m going to take the weekend off. I recently recieved a comment for my Coheed & Cambria post that was not only in poor taste, but horribly written, argued and against the entire point of this blog. This blog is about an openness towards the entire idea of emo in general, and is made in response to the close-minded view of emo. Calling someone an “emo bitch” is basically reiterating all of the negative stereotypes of our society in general, and are a simple sign of frustration at an inability to create any arguable concept. I’m all for creating a conversation about the topic (that’s the point of this blog), but outside of that, attacking me as an individual and not my argument is just poor. So a few thoughts here…

1) The comment attacked me for my supposed sole love of emo. For anyone who knows me or has read even a hint of this blog, I’m a lover of any and all genres. In fact, most of the music that I discuss that is made within the recent past is in fact not emo. Hip-hop, art-punk, indie… it’s a mish-mash of genres.

2) On Coheed & Cambria being emo: to me, emo is of relatively loose definition. If you want a straight up definition, here it is: a subgenre of post-hardcore originating from the mid-80s DC punk scene, where musicians subverted the rule-based notions that plagued hardcore by imbuing it with ambiguous and outside notions of music and lyrics. Much like post-punk, the definition of post-hardcore relies on reliving the original concepts of hardcore (ie punk to its outer extremes), and the what separates emo from other post-hardcore genres is a strong focus on multi-dimensional lyrics that are meant to connect to all who are welcome to the ideas present (ie building a community) and are based in the personal predicaments of the maturation of the lyrics’ writers (everything from politics to yes, love).

So when I hear that Coheed & Cambria are not emo, I have to laugh. They do confine to the flexibility of the genre’s essence. The infamous commenter noted that they are prog and metal, which is true, they do make use of that. But somehow that makes Coheed not emo? False. Clearly this person only has a close-minded interpretation of emo overall, which was why I established this blog in the first place – to combat that. Clearly this person has never opened their mind up to the mind-numbing emo-cum-art-punk of Happy Go Licky (featuring all four members of Rites of Spring, the originators of emo), the exhilirating combination of funk, metal, go-go, emo, classic rock, and a touch of hip-hop of Fugazi, never thought to pick up the later work by Sunny Day Real Estate (or their follow-up, side project, The Fire Theft) which drenches the sound of early 90s emo in a great lake of progressive rock. These acts and individuals made emo such a vibrant, creative, and ambiguous force against the tyranny of definition that has carried the genre/culture/whatever to its current state. And Coheed’s combination of third wave emo (the aesthetics that mark Thursday, Taking Back Sunday, Brand New, and tons of others – cathartic punk-based musics derived from the original DC aesthetic) with progressive and metal is no different. They just provide a different musical melenge from their peers, which set them apart in their community; Coheed toured with these bands (on various treks and the usual Warped Tour) and particiapted in the community forum of the record label (Equal Vision is one of the largest independent labels supporting emo in its third wave, releasing albums by artists from Alexisonfire, Saves The Day, Armor For Sleep, and a host of others). To say that Coheed is not emo would break the very ideas that continue to make emo so hard to define in the typical concept of a musical genre.

3) So how come I can enjoy Coheed’s earlier work and not their later work? Because if I only supposedly don’t listen to anything but emo, according to the infamous comment, I shouldn’t be able to stand to any of Coheed’s music at all. Period. What a fallacy of an argument. Seriously. The reason I can barely listen to the newest Coheed album isn’t because it isn’t emo, it’s because it just isn’t that great.

Finally, this is meant to be a forum for positive reaction about one of the most negatively associated genres in music/cultural movements today. So, if you would like to provide a fluid and well-thought argument, be my guest. But if you walk in with close-minded assumptions about emo and can only take out your frustrations on the author, well you’ve obviously come to the wrong place.

So, excuse me for that, but I made this blog in an attempt to create positive change – please take your negative concepts elsewhere.

Have a great weekend! I promise more cultural insights and how they relate to emo quite soon. Until then, goodbye!

Lawrence And Cambria

Lawrence of Arabia is one of those movies your told, nay instructed, to see if you enjoy film of the sort. I knew it was epic, but I had no idea how epic until the big, bold “Intermission” stood on screen about two and a half hours in. Planning an intermission in your film? Now that’s epic. All told, I walked into Coolidge Corner Theater around 7 and left after 11. And the movie was everything I thought it would be, and not quite what I expected. The cinematography was wonderful – big, sweeping shots of the desert right from the get-go. The acting wasn’t overwhelming, just was simply well done through and through. It wasn’t action-for-action shots throughout the three-plus hours, but the tension that built on the screen boiled over in every image, making the time pass by without a stir. And its connections to real-time concerns with what’s going on in the Middle East today was, well, more than simple good planning. Every detail was meticulously pondered over, and for an epic effect.

The real T.E. Lawrence

In the world of emo, nothing is more epic than New York’s Coheed & Cambria. It certainly helps that the world is of no concern to the band; their four concept albums span a web of narratives in an alternative universe created by frontman Claudio Sanchez and the group itself is named after the story’s two protagonists. Throw in Sanchez’s alien-like falsetto, the band’s taste for grand prog instrumentals that span into the double digits, and a narrative that transcends tales of love at its very best, and you’ve got something downright epic in the emo scene now over-run with three-chord pop-punk flavored anthems.

Coheed & Cambria share some similar stylistic elements to emo forefathers Sunny Day Real Estate (most notably the unheard of falsettos shared by their frontmen and the melding of progressive instrumentation), though Coheed is at an absolute extreme to Sunny Day. Coheed are otherworldly by comparison; their concern with matters of an alternative universe (one which Sanchez has plotted out in comic book form), their instrumentals run at sometimes-comical lengths and include too many time signature changes to account, and their musical aesthetics are more connected to the realm of New Jersey’s Lifetime than any DC Dischord act. It’s so absurd, yet so unrelentingly plausible and popular that it makes for the most epic sound in modern emo and on the top of the Billboard charts.

Coheed & Cambria

Personally, I’ve had a hard time getting into Coheed’s last two albums. For some reason, whatever I listen to just seems devoid of the same cathartic expression and passionate performance of Second Stage Turbine Blade and In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. Sure, some of the lengthier tracks on Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Vol 1 run the gamut of musical menageries, but at some point the album seemed too absurd for its own intentions. It’s an excellent case for and against the idea of epic. When it all comes together in a creative and ingenious manner (see “Everything Evil” off Second Stage) it works wonders. But too often the beast becomes to big for its own good, and end in and of itself that is impressive more for its size than content; it loses the fresh vigor and zeal that drove it to such a passionate beginning. Coheed is traveling a fine line between both worlds. It’s not quite Lawrence of Arabia, but thankfully nowhere near Epic Movie.

Coheed & Cambria – Devil In Jersey City