Tag Archives: America

Jimes and the New Garage

There’s nothing quite like a musical discovery, and Jimes is not quite like anything else I’ve found in recent memory. Jimes is the kind of thing you inadvertently stumble upon and then mildly-obsess about for a handful of minutes. Jimes is absurd, endearing, and entertaining, simply by being.

Jimes live

Jimes live

Jimes hails from Chevy Chase, an annexed part of the greater Bethesda area that’s all encapsulated in the DC metro area. Despite the feet which separate his home turf from mine, I had to go to New York to even realize such a character/musical entity existed. And so, while searching for a small-scale, underground show to follow up my Siren adventure, I discovered Jimes was scheduled to play a new hole-in-the-wall venue in Brooklyn.

I didn’t make it to the show (I ended up throwing away all my post-festival plans for relaxation), but Jimes certainly stuck with me. The anarchic, non-musician to the extreme, uber-garage pop immediately jumped out at me. Hey, it’s not great musicianship, but there’s an immediacy and power to it that’s lost on a lot of bands I like to lump into the “mainstream.” Clearly, Jimes (who is the singer, but is also the umbrella name for the full-band) isn’t doing this for money or fame, but simply the power of expression… or most importantly, fun.

More Jimes

More Jimes

Of course, Jimes’ forwardness with which he proclaims his inability to create music is easily connected to the first wave of punk, where non-musicians became an icon of the movement (if not exactly the true creators of said punk music). And as emo is as much a part of the narrative of punk as it is a sub-genre, Jimes’ straight-forward creation of music for the sake of creation is reflective of much of the narratives behind emo’s most noteworthy acts. Although many of those acts had different ideas for simply creating their music, one thing is clear throughout; it’s just important to do it. And if Jimes has any relation to those in the Dischord crowd, the kids in the Mid-West emo scene of the 1990s, or the teens bouncing around basements in New Jersey in the late 90s/early 2000s, his drive to create is in part fueled by his derision of the mainstream society around him.

As far as Jimes’ connection to any greater community is concerned, that is a scene I would be very interested to learn more about. Jimes’ playfulness and musical audaciousness is reminiscent of a number of acts from around America, yet ones who don’t appear to have any direct connection to one another. Math the Band readily comes to mind; the New England-based act was originally just a fun-loving guy named Kevin who sang over beats he constructed on his laptop. But Math has since expanded into a full-fledged band that’s been touring with buddies Harry and the Potters (the defining act of wizard rock, which is it’s own little scene) and will soon be playing a festival in Pittsburgh with none other than Bob Dylan. Juiceboxxx is another one of these whatever-you-want-to-call-it acts, though there is a touch of professionalism. Hailing from Milwaukee, Juiceboxxx is known for putting on urgent and insanely danceable shows, all of which can be heard in the immediacy of the goofy-yet-catchy laptop-based hip-hop tracks.

Math the Band

Math the Band

I could be trying to force certain puzzles in place when there isn’t anything there necessarily. Without any immediate connection to one another, there’s a certain lack of any tangible scene, a driving force which has powered emo to this day. And yet, for some reason, all of these acts are cropping up across the United States that have a general aesthetic connection; technologically-driven (though slightly deficient) music and a drive for creativity that is more parts humor and fun than anything else. If anything, this is a mark of the technology on the ability to create music. Just as cassette tape players made it easy for anyone to make some form of music in the 80s (which Calvin Johnson took to heart with K Records), the laptop has made it insanely easy for anyone to record anything.

Juiceboxxx live

Juiceboxxx live

Although mash-ups, techno, dubstep, grime, and any other electronic-based genre have long been the focus of technology-in-music when it comes to the role laptops have played on modern music, they can be (and in the case of Jimes, are) used for simply recording live instrumental playing on the fly. What’s happening now is something similar to the rise of garage bands in the 60s (although not on such a grand, noticeable scale). As rock bands became a commerce of cool, kids across the country formed bands without any thought of ability or community – just make music. And it’s happening again, only with the laptop instead of the guitar.

Call it “New Garage.” Call it whatever you want. In the same way that garage rock produced hundreds of hundreds of bands across the country, each unique and the same all at once, that commitment to music above all else is happening all over again. And that’s a great thing.

You can download most of the Jimes catalog here. Below are clips of live shows from Jimes, Math the Band, and Juiceboxxx.

Jimes:

Math the Band:

Juiceboxxx:

No More Phone Booths

Like any “normal” male adolescent in America, my elementary school days were filled with a love of sports and comic books. For me, it was more comic books than sports. As my friends dreamed of a future on the gridiron, I diligently worked on my impending comic book career. Somewhere along the line I became jaded; it could have been any number of adults and teachers who urged me to take art classes (an idea I despised), it could have been my critiques of my ability to draw or create a narrative, or it could have been middle school that did it.

My childhood - just as I remember it

My childhood - just as I remember it

As my dream job of creating my own super heroes slipped away, my love of comics stayed with me. My own maturation seems perfectly timed with the “maturation” of comic books from pubescent pulp to renowned artistic endeavors with the popularity of the graphic novel. Maus (the unmitigated classic), Palestine (what I’ve read of it – it’s an intense and engaging affair that I should devote more time to than idly flipping through chapters in my free time), Blankets (I remember picking this thing up to pass the time and stay out of the rain at a festival in Norway, and I was immediately absorbed), and others made my love of comics seemed refined. But the superheroes, those endless tales churned out week after week and once seen as a splotch on the American conscience, they remain my true guilty pleasure (perhaps that is why I find Watchmen so endearing; it combines the seemingly low-brow entertainment of super heroes with the high-brow narrative style of graphic novels). So, whenever a new superhero movie comes out, I jump at the ability to see it.

With each coming summer, there’s at least one high-flying comic book based (or inspired) tale on the big screen, and this year is no different. As The Dark Knight approaches, I’ve been subsumed in comic-book films recently and even movies with people obsessed with comic books. While I’ve missed out on The Incredible Hulk (or based on various reviews, not missed out), I celebrated the end of my college education with Iron Man on opening night, saw Hollywood make an altogether out-of-character film with Hancock, and devoured the graphic details that fill Hellboy 2. As I saw the later two films within the past week, two other occurrences have made me think about my adoration of superheroes more than I normally do. One was a great article by James Parker in last week’s Boston Phoenix on what the popularity of superhero films says about our nation’s identity. The second occurrence was a scene in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats, where Stan Lee discusses with Brodie (played by Jason Lee) what drove him to create his best characters.

Jason Lee and Stan Lee in Mallrats

Jason Lee and Stan Lee in Mallrats

Although the scene in Mallrats was clearly scripted for the plot of the movie, the random chain of events in which I watched the three films and read the James Parker article got me thinking more about my personal interaction with comic books. The one thing that reminded me of what appealed to me about superheroes, particularly the Marvel chain of heroes, was one section of the Parker piece:

“I’m a DC Comics person,” says Dr. Robin S. Rosenberg, PhD, over iced coffee at Simon’s in Cambridge. Outside, the afternoon is horizontal with heat fatigue: the cars buzz drunkenly along Mass Ave. “By temperament, I suppose. Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman — they have a lot more moral clarity for me, a more serious code to which to aspire. Marvel is kind of the arena of the neurotic superhero, beginning with Spider-Man, who, of course, is a New Yorker. A neurotic and very introspective New Yorker! Now Batman is thoughtful, too, but he doesn’t think about himself. He broods, but what he’s doing is figuring out what action to take. So it looks like rumination, obsessive thoughts, but it’s actually problem solving. Whereas Marvel characters seem to go around and around.”

 

To me, DC comic characters always seemed so un-human in every aspect. They were nearly flawless (that includes Batman, despite his problems with the past), and aside from one minor problem they may have (such as kryptonite), their entire abilities just made their jobs seem so easy. It made the prospect of even reading the books sound pointless – there’s no way the characters couldn’t triumph over their enemies. Now the Marvel characters had it; they were unique, imperfect, and human; they had to struggle with their own place in the world in order to do good for the world. Sure, Spider-man could swing through Manhattan, but his own problems seemed so realistic, making his situation as a person with superpowers that much more believable. In many ways, this is what I find so appealing about emo; the subjects that are discussed within the lyrics are problems that at their core are undoubtedly human. Whether those problems are as morally thoughtful as corporate greed (Fugazi’s “Five Corporations”), as existentially obtuse as traveling beyond your natural habitat (The Promise Ring’s “Make Me A Chevy”), or simply about loss (Brand New’s “Sowing Season (Yeah)”), they all (hopefully) contain a poignant point about the problems in life, and how we deal with them. In that context, it’s no wonder love is so often discussed.

 

Hellboy and Liz Sherman in a scene from Hellboy 2

Hellboy and Liz Sherman in a scene from Hellboy 2

 

Love was the second big thing that I noticed about comic book superheroes. Well, not so much love as a consistent recalling of it in two films that made me think more about my own interaction with comic books and emo to a greater extent. Being a huge music fan, I often want to know what inspired the songs that I find really inspiring. What I find so appealing about emo (and comic books) is that there are many layers that inform a particular story or song, but in the end it’s what you take away from it that matters. There’s a particular section in Andy Greenwald’s reprehensible book on emo, Nothing Feels Good, where a Dashboard Confessional fan recounts a discussion he had with Chris Carrabba about a particular song; the fan thought the song was about one thing, but was surprised to find out that it was inspired by something totally different. Is the fan wrong to think about the song that way? Not at all – the song had personal meaning to him for a good reason. In the entire emo lineage, the brightest bands have created songs that are multi-faceted; they’re based in personal moments, but can be subsumed by any listener and thought of in a different way. And the thing is, no one is wrong. So, when Stan Lee tells Brodie in Mallrats that lost love inspired the creation of many of his greatest superhero creations, I find everything a little too coincidental. Sure, that story was Smith’s invention, but who’s to say he was wrong? It’s well known that the X-Men were created as a foil to the then-current struggle for Civil Rights, but who’s to say they don’t mean something different to Stan Lee (well, Stan Lee I guess).

 

In many ways, the more I think about it, the more I find the narratives of normalcy particularly appealing to me in terms of superheroes. I love action as much as the next person, but nothing is quite like the personal stories of the people behind the masks in the comic books and films. And again, it’s the same thing with emo; of all the cultures surrounding musical genres, emo is (for the most part) all about normalcy. The musicians and artists discuss personal problems and try and build communities among their fanbase. The world of the “Rock Star,” the realm of 80s Hair Metal; these are the “superheroes,” but they’re not so much super as they are larger-than-life purely due to the size of their egos. I could never equate that attitude with “good,” and I’ll take the normalcy of emo anyday.

 

Dashboard Confessional – Vindicated video (not my favorite, but it sums up the theme quite nicely):

Bastards of Pop

By now most music-loving folk are aware of the pay-what-you-want, online release of Girl Talk’s latest album, Feed The Animals. But this isn’t about that… well, it’s almost not about that. As any other savy internet users are concerned, a trio of folks hailing from the greater Baltimore/DC area new about this all to well. Funny thing is, the title of Girl Talk’s new album is startlingly similar to a certain activity that these three individuals do to fulfill their creative impulses. And darn it if the members of Food For Animals didn’t do something about it. The savvy members of one of the top experimental hip-hop troupes in the country put their imagination to the test and came out with a remix of Feed The Animals that is as hilarious as it is genuinely well-crafted. The inversion of the Girl Talk record cover didn’t hurt either.

Girl Talk\'s Feed The Animals

Food For Animals\' remix

Sure, this may sound like another attempt by an under-appreciated musical act trying to grab some limelight off of the backs of pop sensations. Actually, pop sensations may be the key word to why this isn’t a case of bandwagon-ing popularity. That same realm where Girl Talk has become such a heroic image is one where Food For Animals have gotten their fare and deserved share of praise and following as well; from Spin to Pitchfork, numerous well-regarded places of music criticism have praised FFA for their latest album – Belly.

No, this is not a case of scraping for some 15 minutes of fame. This isn’t even about fame. This is a great case of that simple keyword… community. The FFA remix is more a work of humorous camaraderie than anything negative or self-serving. For Gregg Gillis and FFA, it is another mark of a shared aesthetic dedicated to the opposite of pop-sanctuary; underground artistry. Their physical hometowns may be separate (Pittsburgh for GT, and Baltimore/DC for FFA), but their ideal one is a special place known as Wham City.

Brooklyn\'s Matt & Kim at Whartscape 2007

Wham City is a collective of artists and musicians who’ve made a hometown in Baltimore. More than that, they’ve made a scene-worthy presence out of Baltimore. Although Wham City is a close-knit crew (headed by electronics wunderkid Dan Deacon) and is not the entire community of Baltimore’s diverse art-punk scene, they have nevertheless become the center and face of the creativity bubbling out of the once-forgotten town. While institutions as high on the music-critiquing food chain as Rolling Stone have come a-calling, it has yet to diminish the creative culmination of the relatively anti-establishment scene. If anything, it’s simply drawn other like-minded individuals to the area and those who have made themselves an important part of building an artistically-challenging community. The connections within the scene are more personal than musically-similar. This year’s Whartscape Festival features, along side Gregg Gillis (playing with his side project Trey Told ‘Em) and Food For Animals, a number of musicians from across the country who are more dedicated to pushing the bounds of music than they are to carving a universal pop niche. There’s The Mae Shi (from LA), Black Dice (NYC), Parts & Labor (Brooklyn), and a ton of local Baltimore acts. What they lack in definite sound they make up for in their shared passion for underground music, ingenuity, and community.

Emo was birthed out of a very similar thesis of community as seen through performance. Music was the cache, but it wasn’t the only distinct quality of those communities. The places friends within the scene would interact and think of as home bases, the venues that bands practiced and played, the ideas that individuals shared and used to challenge one another – not just musically, but in life – were as integral to the scene as the tag placed on the original scene’s existence.

The Revolution Summer scene, the first community to be burdened with the label “emo” was a particular exemplary of the feat of flexibility. Some ideological and musical characteristics were shared, but the common bond over strengthening the community beyond the rigidity that defeated DC’s hardcore scene was stronger than any detrimentally-inclined tag. The acts that followed in the footsteps of the broken-up Revolution Summer acts continued to build on the ideas of community, welcoming other individual-thinkers into their world, and emiting a new crop of bands that did little to conform to any standards. Groups like Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, Shudder To Think, Jawbox, and a host of others opened up the interpretations of the local “emo” sound to distinctly new possibilities. And others flocked to their community. Bikini Kill, though not emo, left the West Coast for DC, while Dischord welcomed Baltimore’s Lungfish in with open arms (quite a feat considering that Dischord was meant to be a forum for only DC acts).

With the breakthrough of alternative music into the mainstream, the emo acts of DC formed connections with others across America through correspondence, touring, and even producing; Jawbox’s J Robbins was a primary producer of many well-known 2nd wave emo acts. As the ideological, aesthetic, and musical aspects of emo spread around the country, tight bonds were formed by dis-separate acts throughout the Mid West. Those who form the core of 2nd wave emo acts  – The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Christie Front Drive, etc – were all connected through friendship rather than sharing three chords.

Even today, when emo has lost a lot of its elasticity of definition due to stereotypes, community is as an important aspect as ever. Acts bond through touring (such as playing together on Warped Tour), shared record labels (Vagrant, Fueled By Ramen), a communal upbringing (such as Thursday and numerous other acts who honed their sound in New Jersey basements), and friendship (be it Thursday and My Chemical Romance or Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco). Community is the strongest bond of the most-creative (and often times, successful) emo acts. Those bands looking to take advantage of a currently-popular, commercially-consumed genre tend to bring out the worst in emo. But it’s community that has allowed emo to continue to thrive and survive to this day, and it’s community that will continue to drive some of the most ingenious and forward-thinking musical movements.

Food For Animals – Girl Talk

Baltimore’s Double Dagger at Whartscape 2007:

Don’t Shudder

Great news today from reunion land, where Shudder To Think will join a growing list of acts banding together to make a little tour. It’s not much, but I’ll certainly take it. It also doesn’t hurt that Boston is one of the few locations in America that the band is scheduled to hit; they’ll be playing at Paradise Rock Club on October 11th.

Shudder To Think\'s Dischord Days

Shudder To Think provided one of the most interesting sounds on the Dischord roster when they joined in the late 80s. Sure, Fugazi was turning all notions of post-hardcore and emo on their heads, but Shudder To Think was an entirely different beast. They were a band that pulled more and more towards the aesthetic elements of psychedelia over time, though their ethos was still intensely grounded in the DIY punk realm. Their earliest work veered through the quick one-two punch of hardcore drumming before opening up to gaping waves of 60s-flavored guitar-work (see “Chocolate” off of Funeral At The Movies).

The band did refine their sound, as seen on 1992’s Get Your Goat. Shudder to Think did more than simply re-tread the old aesthetic waters of Revolution Summer emo acts. They took the combination of hardcore and pop on a roller coaster to the clouds; it didn’t hurt that frontman Craig Wedren’s eerie falsetto became as controlled, textured, and wholly unpredictable as the band’s sound. Their work mirrored and even impacted their future touring partners, Sunny Day Real Estate (at least according to the Alternative Press article on the 23 bands, where Shudder To Think is name-checked as being one of the DC bands perpetrating the particular style of emo). It’s hard not to see the connections between the two bands. Both made use of intelligently-crafted punk rock, both sought solace in the musical realm of the 60s and 70s, both featured vocalists with unusual singing styles in the realm of punk, and both brought a distinct change in style to the labels they became a part of (although, Sunny Day’s work at Sub Pop was more a rejection of by then typical grunge than it was an evolution of the label’s aesthetic… then again, Dischord had a fluid aesthetic that lends emo a certain sense of flexibility that exists to this day). Shudder To Think’s status as not only a creative, genre-bending band, but a cross-national influence works to establish their importance in the narrative of emo; their eventual connection with Sunny Day is one of many moves that helps to solidify a cross-substantial aesthetic idea of emo, as well as a burgeoning community surrounding emo (touring would become an important part of the Mid Western emo community as many bands that toured with one another shared ideas and friendship through their troubadour spirits).

Shudder To Think would continue to spread the idea of an evolutionary emo sound when they signed to Epic to release the Pony Express Record; they were only one of two Dischord bands to sign to a major label frenzy in the great alternative buyouts in the post-Nevermind music world. But the world wasn’t ready for the Pony Express Record (nor was it ready for most of the bands that were signed in the major label buyouts). Hell, emo wasn’t really ready either. Shudder To Think always had an odd style, but it got even weirder with their major label debut. In an aesthetic style that prided itself on lyrics that were both ambiguous but contained a sense of personal investment to the band and listener, Shudder provided a great thesis in that flexibility and a great revolution against the concept. Pony Express is lyrically obtuse, it’s music strung all over the place. And it’s still positively great, though a little rough to get into at parts. If emo means emotional music over punk rock, nothing fits that idea better than the wailing anthem that Wedren lets out against a sea of guitars on the two-plus minute long chorus closing out “X-French Tee Shirt”.

The rest of the Shudder To Think tale is all over the map. Wedren battled Hodgkin’s Disease while recording their second major label album. And a couple of projects were made under the Shudder To Think name: a soundtrack for the movies First Love, Last Rights (featuring guest vocals from folks such as Jeff Buckley), High Art, and a selection of songs for the glitter-rock inspired film Velvet Goldmine.

Shudder To Think broke up shortly thereafter in 1998. Wedren has been the most visible and successful of the band members since the breakup with a solo career. However, Wedren’s solo work is probably best recognized in the guise of three other guys: Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain. Wedren has been the trio’s go-to guy for movies like Wet Hot American Summer (he wrote the song “Wet Hot American Summer” and co-wrote the hilarious track “Higher and Higher”), The Baxter, and The Ten (in which he also played an extra in the chorus of nude dudes).

Craig Wedren

What will happen with the new Shudder To Think reunion? A new album? Five new albums? Or just a simple tour. Whatever happens, something good is sure to come.

Shudder To Think – X-French Tee Shirt (video)

Say Anything About Science Fiction

There’s something about the 4th of July that screams “joy”. It could be the way that folks file out of the woodwork to aimlessly meander around Boston in numbers that rival a sports championship parade. It could be the atmosphere of happiness that bounces off porches and front lawns, where normally reserved neighbors suddenly take to the near-outdoors to share a laugh and an afternoon. It could be the way fireworks careen through the streets of Allston the moment darkness sets in, a venerable battlefield of noises raging through the air. It could be the familiar smell of meat (and your garden variety of vegetables) wafting through the air, almost as if it’s every individual American’s right, nay duty, to fire up the grills and fill our stomachs. It could be the way that Boston turns from a normal city into a communal playground, the kind of place where everyone does indeed know your name, or at least act like they do.

Or it could be The Twilight Zone marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel. Seeing as I rarely indulge in TV on my own time and that the number of shows currently broadcasting aren’t what I’d pin down as “entertaining” (though I do watch my fair share of DVDs and random re-runs) it’s funny that of all the days of the year, I’d take the 4th of July to spend some quality time with the good ole’ Jawbox. I’d forgotten about the annual Twilight Zone marathon, and it wasn’t until I dropped by a friend’s cookout did it pop back into my head and on the TV.

Suffice to say, Rod Serling was a genius and the impact his program has had on popular culture and modern storytelling is pretty hard to underestimate. In just the first episode that I watched (of three), I saw shades of Toy Story, a better and more succinct version of what I think Lost is all about (truthfully, I’ve barely seen that show, and have no interest in continuing to watch it), and the strong influence of Samuel Beckett. Titled “Five Characters In Search Of An Exit,” the episode (part of which I’ve placed below) quickly reminded me just what made The Twilight Zone such an anomaly and a brilliant work of art.

Serling, like so many great artists, had his finger on the driving impulses of humanity. His work has the mark of absurdity, but in the way that what is accepted as normal within The Twilight Zone isn’t necessarily as absurd as what we accept in our reality. Just as many great works of science fiction point out the absurdity of the human condition through metaphors (such as George A Romero’s take on racism in Night of the Living Dead, although that is more horror than science fiction) or critique the absurdity of society (the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers and it’s critique of the red scare), Serling’s work struck a chord either with the paradoxes of humanity, the state of our society, or simply played on our individual fears.

Absurdity is a great and oft-dangerous tool in art. Use it well and you’re a genius; misuse it and your work suffers (one cannot forget Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, which seems to both use and misuse absurdity in extremes; the film is a bumbling mess that’s both hideous and brilliant at the same time. Unfortunately, one half cannot be without the other). Of all the acts in emo, Say Anything is the one band to make excellent use of absurdity for the bettering of art (and sometimes, abuse it for the unfortunate nadir of art as well). People may complain about the state of emo today, but chances are, none have them would have bothered to pick up Say Anything’s 2004 effort …is a Real Boy (which was later re-packaged as a double album in 2006, with the second half labeled …was a Real Boy). The blogosphere is no stranger to hype, and hype is no stranger to frontman and perpetual mind of Say Anything Max Bemis, but …is a Real Boy is easily one of the best albums to come out this decade.

Still from the \

Epic, mature, humorous, brilliant, lyrically-intelligent, spellbinding, and yes, absurd, …is a Real Boy takes the idea of extremism in punk rock and hits it out of the park. For a first album, any band would be proud. But Say Anything is not any band, and Max Bemis is not any frontman. Here’s the skinny:

Max Bemis grew up in LA a punk-pop prodigy, told from a young age that he would be the next Bob Dylan. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a young man, especially one who would later be found to have manic-depression. After putting out some independently-produced albums, Bemis scrapped all of Say Anything’s back catalog to make something, well, epic. Bemis concocted …is a Real Boy as a great emo rock opera. Quite literally. Bemis even went as far as to recruit Stephen Trask, creator of cult sensation Hedwig and the Angry Inch, to produce the album and what was meant to be a giant musical production of the record’s songs in conjunction with its release. The overarching story is of a boy who is struck to breakout into song when he reaches some climactic and passionate burst of fury over whatever he was agonizing over. Musicals are easily the most absurd form of modern art (honestly, nobody simply breaks out into song and is joined by a massive, perfectly-choreographed chorus in order to express their inner thoughts and then simply act as if said moment never happened afterwards), but the songs on …is a Real Boy made it work. The way a punk lifer described his iconoclastic ideals through passionate bursts of song that made the critiques on reality just as absurd as the moment of intensity of the performance was flawless.

Too bad the musical never panned out. Bemis had the first of many psychological breakdowns during the wrap-up of the album’s production; he got in a fight with strangers on a New York City street corner, believing they were actors in a film about the production of his album. Several nervous breakdowns later and a career in danger and Bemis is found to have manic-depression. A number of years later and Bemis has signed a major label deal, has his videos on MTV, and (rightfully so) has found his work on top of the Billboard heap. Call it what you will, but I was disappointed with the release of In Defense of the Genre; it may have landed Say Anything at the top of the pops, but it was an example of absurdity in unfortunate extremes. A double album with only enough good material to fill a single side, In Defense of the Genre is a good effort, but merely an effort in comparison to …is a Real Boy. The idea of defending emo is excellent, and the cavalry of emo stars who fill out the album’s guest spots is great (such as Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba and My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way), and the (ab)use of a multitude of genre aesthetics is an interesting concept. But ultimately, the performance and the ideas fall flat. Still, it is a valiant effort, even if Bemis is much more concerned with love (most songs on In Defense of the Genre) than, say, rightfully bashing elitist hipsters (“Admit It!!!”).

Sometimes I wonder if the absurdity, nay, even the brilliant social commentary of Say Anything ever really seeps into America’s tweens. But there’s no doubt that Say Anything’s best work has a certain staying power that most pop cannot achieve. Hopefully somewhere in the middle of America those who pick up Say Anything after hearing it through some Clear Channel station will play …is a Real Boy years from now and understand what Bemis is getting it. Or maybe I’m just not giving these tweens the right credit. Sure, Warped Tour is ground zero for shameless product plugs and hours upon hours of pop-punk. But with the cathartic live experience of Say Anything – Bemis is halfway between Andrew WK and a white, male MIA – there’s no doubt that those messages critiquing society’s ails can reach someone.

I’m in a video mood, so here’s the video for Say Anything’s “Alive With The Glory Of Love”, itself a critique on the important aspects of life during times of desperation (listen closely to the lyrics):

Different Perspectives on the 4th

The Washington Post featured an odd article on the header of its website yesterday. Kevin Connolly is 22, won a silver medal at the X Games, and is a photographer who’s work is currently on display at the Kennedy Center in DC. Here’s a picture of Connolly:

Kevin Connolly

Connolly was born without legs. His work is on display under the name “The Rolling Exhibition,” and it features photos he took while traversing the globe on a skateboard. The photos are all taken at ground level and offer a completely different perspective on the realm of every day life.

The best photographers are made by their instinctive eye for what people consider aesthetically pleasing. You can lead hundreds to a beautiful landscape, but it’s the individuals who can get a sense of how to capture and retain that beauty on film (or on pixels) that are the true artists in photography. Photography is all about perspective; it’s being able to create something tangible in a fraction of a second that only you can see and being skilled enough to convince others of the beauty or importance of that perspective – that shot – simply by putting it on display. Connolly’s work is a basic expression of that intrinsic element of art in photography. Almost everyone who will view Connolly’s photos have absolutely no idea what it’s like to live without legs. And yet, with a quick, in-motion photo of passing strangers, Connolly manages to sum up book-loads of personal experience in an aesthetic light that can make anyone with a degree of imagination find resonance and the human experience in his art.

Perspective is a driving force behind emo. True, all art expresses some general form of perspective, but emo is the form of music where many artists seek to make individual perspectives a tangible reality for people who haven’t had the experiences that formulated the driving force of the music and culture. It’s not an empathetic form of art, but it’s not far off. The reason emo was such a force within the underground for over two decades was the fact that the music sought to connect individuals of different backgrounds through positive, personal music that created an omniscient perspective. It created communities, which are the foundations of the underground in America. And underground communities in America are the breeding grounds for underground cultures.

And with such a vast opportunity of perspectives that can be tossed in the heap, and with the vast amount of different perspectives across the United States, emo became a mutated force of underground culture in different parts of this vast union. It will always be tied to post-hardcore, it will always be tied to its DC roots, and it will always be tied to a sense of yearning towards a goal. And that sense of yearning is mostly where the lineages of emo differentiate. With the Revolution Summer of 1985 (otherwise known as the birth of emo) the various acts that constituted for emo wrote about a multitude of ideas in blanketed terms in order to reach out to all sorts of individuals; from the staunch politics of Beefeater, to the introverted anguish of Embrace, to the general struggle with the individual of Rites of Spring, emo at its beginnings covered the ideological bases. Let’s not forget Fugazi, who took the aesthetic elements of the Revolution Summer acts and blasted them off in profound new directions; their work made the most plight-filled perspectives seem like a reality by addressing taboo subjects with an empathetic sense of humanity. Everything from AIDS (“Give Me The Cure”) to gentrification (“Cashout”) to gun violence (“Repeater”) was addressed with a profound and omniscient voice that opened listeners to near-alien perspectives and experiences and made them as important issues as ones personally affecting the individual.

So how did emo go from there to here? How did politics diverge into puppy-love? Well, it’s not that simple; to say that politics doesn’t exist in emo anymore is a bold-faced lie. Hell, Fugazi kept churning out records well into the new millennium, and you can’t forget Billboard chart-toppers Thursday when discussing politics and emo in the same breath. And aspects of love and romance were well a part of emo from the beginning; Rites of Spring’s music, though perpetually vague in context and up to the listener to discern the meaning for themselves, did sometimes concern aspects of romantic love.

But, as far as the songs about love, or lost love, or as some would go as far to say (and in some cases, correctly) near-hatred towards the opposite sex, the answer is simple: it’s all about perspective. Love is a concept that every human being on the planet can relate to. Outside of the survival needs for shelter and sustenance, love is a concept that is basically universal. Everyone has experienced it in some capacity, be it romantically or otherwise. And it’s fair to say everyone has experienced their fare share of rejection. And it’s all about how we deal with it. The most perplexing thing about the projection of emo in recent years isn’t the obsession with love. It’s the obsession with negativity broiled in rejection. From its beginning, emo was created with the idea to make something constructive, build something new and positive after the wreckage of the hardcore community that those who became involved in the “emo” scene had experienced (their rejection, in some capacity, involved in punk).

Yet, today, so many emo acts revel in dread. Again, not a new concept or perspective; if there’s anything as old as love, it’s depression (or a mild form of it). But why the fascination with such negativity? It’s impossible to pinpoint one thing, but it is representative of something fairly circular within pop music; every so often, the mood of pop music flows from positivity to negativity. With so many sub-genres and categories of pop pushed onto consumers at any one point, its interesting to see different musics produce different emotional output at the same time. You can’t forget the brooding darkness of the 80s when post-punk and goth were all the rage and hardcore bristled with anger in the underground; then again, happy-sounding music dominated the pop-charts, with everything from Madonna to Bobby Mcferrin (“Don’t Worry Be Happy”) supported Regan’s 50s style American dream image.

Whatever the case may be, be it the fact that loss of romantic love is the only ailment and perspective that can incite anything aside from apathy in well-to-do teenagers anymore, or the fact that modern music is a circular and uncontrollable beast, it is interesting to note the vast expanse of, well, emotions that fill the map of pop music today.

And so, on our nation’s birthday, I ask to keep perspective in mind. It’s our individual perspectives that make us unique, that attract us to other like-minded souls, and that separate us along various ideological lines. But we’re all human, no matter what perspective we may have. Happy Birthday America!

Here’s a present, courtesy of one of the many emo acts to come out of the Kinsella collective:

American Football – Honestly?