Tag Archives: Beefeater

The Revolution Will Be Produced

It’s always nice getting some sort of personal email, especially when it’s in the form of a musical reunion between David Byrne and Brian Eno. Well, “personal” isn’t quite the right word, but I certainly took the message as a sincere and direct one:

It’s with great pleasure we offer you a sneak peak by sharing an MP3 from the album. The song is called “Strange Overtones”.

The album in question is Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, and it’s the first collaboration from the two post-punk minds in decades. The duo last came together with the album My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. However, that album was overshadowed (and probably will always be overshadowed) by Byrne’s main musical artery, Talking Heads. Yet, Eno was a central tenant to the Talking Head’s success, as his role in the producer’s seat for three of the Heads’ best albums (More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light) was as vital as any other performing member of the band. It was because of Eno’s previously-unforeseen creative control over the band – which according to the book Rip It Up And Start Again hit its tipping point when Eno and Byrne got writing credits for Remain in Light ahead of the other band members, who were simply written down under the umbrella of “Talking Heads” – that his relationship with the Talking Heads and Byrne deteriorated.

Talking Heads

Talking Heads

It took me quite a bit of time to realize what an impact certain producers have over the final musical product. I always assumed that the final version of a song and album was simply a record of what the musicians themselves had originally created. And in many cases, that is true, especially in the world of underground music (and on the flipside, with mainstream, conglomerate pop, there’s the tendency wherein the “musicians” have less control over the final sound – or even the original sound to begin with). But as I became more interested in music, its with the “behind the music” stories so to speak, that I realized what a fundamental role producers play. The most famous stories I can think of involving the influence of a producer are all about Rick Rubin, the man who transformed the Beastie Boys into a fully-fledged hip-hop act and brought guitars and turntables together with his idea to do a Run-DMC/Aerosmith collaboration.

Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin is the kind of guy who blends a musician’s sound with his own distinct style. His style is not quite overbearing, but you can hear distinct patterns and ideas in songs such as Jay-Z‘s “99 Problems”; with it’s big, chunky guitar riffs broken up by break-beats, its in the same ballpark as “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” or “Walk This Way.” It’s something I tend to notice coming out of my favorite producer today – Danger Mouse. Despite the fact that DM works with a diverse number of genres and artists, there’s a certain reliance on futuristic-soul (a bit faster than old skool soul) with a twist that flows through most of his repertoire. Don’t believe it? Take a quick listen to the Black Keys‘ “Strange Times” and compare it to Gnarls Barkley‘s “Go-Go Gadget Gospel.” They’re both excellent songs, but they share a pop-friendly downbeat and have the same hand-clap filled start.

Strange Times:

Go-Go Gadget Gospel:

It is partially due to production that emo transformed from an obtuse and ambiguous umbrella term for DC based post-hardcore, into a tangible genre. In its infancy, many of the bands who were tagged as “emo” simply produced their own records, or had friends produce their records. Everyone from Rites of Spring to Beefeater (note – their friend “Gumbo” MacKaye is said to have produced their overture) to Fugazi to Lungfish to Jawbox had band members working on both sides of the soundtrack. Hell, Happy Go Licky, the post-Rites of Spring group in a slightly different formation, only has one album, and its a collection of live recordings. The first wave of emo’s lack of a singular mode of production allowed for each act to create their own sounds uninhibited by any outside forces.

Happy Go Lickys Will Play

Happy Go Licky's Will Play

Enter the second wave of emo and there are noticeable changes and formulations drawn out that inevitably impact the future of the genre. The 2nd wave basically has two distinct halves: the spread of the DC-inspired sound to particular parts of the country in a small number of bands (Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, etc), and then the immediate spreading of “emo” under the influence of the previous 1st and 2nd wave bands (most notably throughout the Mid West). Of all of the groups in emo 2.1, Sunny Day Real Estate had the most influence, and yet, they themselves have two distinct parts in which their sound developed due in part to the band’s relationship to two producers: Brad Wood and Lou Giordano. Wood produced the first two Sunny Day albums (Diary and LP2), and the production value brought out a certain aural dissonance derived from the feedback of the band’s dual guitar-work. Considering the band found an instant fan base (albeit, rather small) isn’t unbelievable as their produced sound shared numerous qualities with grunge, which was still popular at the time (Wood worked his alterna-sweeping grunge sound into the work of other artists such as Red Red Meat, Hum, and Smashing Pumpkins). And yet, on LP2 you could sense that the band wanted to achieve something more powerful than the immediate gratification of sonic blasts, as songs such as “J’Nuh” delved into succinct, taught patterns. When they reformed, Sunny Day grabbed Giordano, who helped relieve the band of its excess dissonance in favor of sparse melodies, a concept which has carried on into the band members’ post-Sunny Day work (The Fire Theft, Enigk’s solo work). Sunny Day held their own individual sound throughout their career, but with the help of two different folks created two distinct portraits.

Sunny Days final form

Sunny Day's final form

As emo spread throughout the rest of America and bands began to share musical ideas, producers helped sift through the sounds to create something resembling a conglomerate creation. And the two people who had the most impact behind the bands themselves are Mark Trombino (former Drive Like Jehu drummer) and J Robbins (former Jawbox frontman). Trombino is best known for his production work with Jimmy Eat World, most notably on the album Clarity, a record which traded the band’s pop-punk leanings for ambient experimentation. Trombino’s relationship with Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Knapsack, and Boys Life no doubt formed a core aesthetic for emo which mainly highlighted the band’s talents by simply teasing out the volume, focusing on the intertwined guitar flurries, and highlighting the singers’ vocals. It’s a style of down-tuned production that no-doubt has influenced countless pop-punk and emo bands today, many of whom Trombino has worked with.

J Robbins

J Robbins

As Trombino fiddled with certain bands’ sounds, J Robbins mostly covered the bases of bringing the bands to the studio. In the case of many J Robbins’ produced albums (most recently, his work on Ponytail’s Ice Cream Spiritual has gotten attention for bringing a notoriously hard-to-record-but-excellent-live band into the world of recorded sound), Robbins leaves much of the musicianship up to the band, but makes sure to twist the production knobs in a way that it gives each group the kind of pop-friendly gloss they were hoping to achieve. Even in the case of Texas Is The Reason (Do You Know Who You Are?), Robbins has been able to flesh out the noise-fetish in order to create approachable pop. In fact, Robbins’ work with one band in particular helped drive emo into the bubblegum chew of pop perfection: The Promise Ring. After TPR were upset with the sonic outcome of their debut, 30 Degrees Everywhere, they turned to Robbins for a little quality control. And that’s exactly what Robbins did, delivering the band’s two poppiest records; Nothing Feels Good and Very Emergency. It’s with Robbins that certain aspects of the emo “sound” manage to stand out, because he managed to make the sounds all stand out; rather than bands being lost in a caterwaul of noise, Robbins’ produced material (from the Dismemberment Plan to Jets to Brazil to Braid to mewithoutyou) sounds clear and conscience, making the band stand out. And in music production, that’s what counts.

Brian Eno and David Byrne – Strange Overtones (fan video):

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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?