Tag Archives: Diary

Nothing Sounds Good If You’re Andy Greenwald

This is why I cannot respect Andy Greenwald’s opinion on emo:

andygreenwald

Obviously, taste is taste. Opinion, opinion.

But if this man is the guy who’s supposed to be the emo know-it-all (read: self-created title/Spin created title), I’m not buying it. The guy doesn’t seem to understand the impulse that emo acts have towards evolution, probably because the very thesis of Nothing Feels Good denies this concept.

He denied Sunny Day any post-Diary existence in his book, cramming much of their timeline into a brief paragraph and noting their later stuff for its prog leanings versus any relationship to emo.

He seemed happier to call The Promise Ring’s Wood/Water “joyless” than express the band’s need to let their music grow, saying when they performed it live opening for Jimmy Eat World, “When Davey strummed his acoustic guitar to thousands of eager teenagers at a sold-out Roseland Ballroom in New York City, he was greeted with implacable silence, the sight of an entire generation of music fans regarding him like they had just caught their dad moshing” (NFG, p 125). Opinions abound about Wood/Water, but Greenwald was more than elated to include this one show as evidence that TPR went “dad rock” and left emo, when in fact their new music retained much of the spirit of earlier albums, but held a newfound sense of wonder and exploration into non three-chord territory. And why did the kids greet the band with silence? How many big, sold-out shows did you go to for the opening act? It’s commonplace for fans at big ballroom/arena shows not to know a damn thing about an opener: when they’re playing music like what’s on Wood/Water, what’s a more appropriate response than simply watching in silence? (Go to an acoustic show where you don’t know the musician and see how you react).

Greenwald wrote this about Chris Carrabba:

“And I think: in some small way, it’s already past him. Dashboard Confessional was an emo moment, not an emo career. Carrabba may have many more years and songs ahead of him, but those frustrated, tormented ballads will live on. His worst moments may well outlive his best moments. He has pushed the punk/emo model as far as it can go…” (p 265)

He wrote that just before A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar came out, before Carrabba really broke emo into the mainstream, remade “Hands Down” into a genuine hit and a car commercial-worthy song, and became a Billboard-topping recording artist at number 2. And then again in 2006 at number 2. And then again in 2007 at number 18. And all performing music that, gasp, was in the exact same vein as before.

Greenwald got all that dead wrong, and he’s dead wrong about Brand New. Considering Greenwald is speaking for what is believed to be the voice of emo for critics, for some reason his voice holds some water, even after emo continued to conquer the Billboard charts in ways he hadn’t properly predicted when he wrote Nothing Feels Good. His opinion is his opinion, but to say that Brand New hasn’t written any new material as an “emo conessuire” all while practically every other critic has hailed the band’s last two releases, and fans have pushed their music to the top of the Billboard charts (number 6 just today). Something just doesn’t add up. Considering Greenwald considers himself the “voice of emo” and yet he cannot seem to fathom why or how or that Brand New could write their new material is plain laughable. I’m all for dissenting opinions, but I find his just kind of ridiculous.

Brand New – “Gasoline”:

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New Sunny Day Real Estate Song?!

sdre back

Sunny Day Real Estate kicked off their tour tonight with an unofficial, surprise show in Tacoma, Washington.

And apparently they have a new song. The band members have been fairly open during interviews about the unknown status of the band’s future and their commitment to other projects, and in an interview with The AV Club that recently went online, Dan mention that, if it were possible, he’d work on a new SDRE record.

Well, thank goodness for Megan Selig’s consistently updated Twitter on the goings on of their first show (more will probably be online before this post is published.) Not only does Selig have great, up to the minute info on what’s going on at the show, but, here’s the kicker:

sdre song

And it’s confirmed with the upside-down picture of the setlist, which you can see here.

The new song is called “10” (an ongoing continuation of their “random numbers as song titles” deal that ended with “9,” which is now included in the Diary reissue). For folks who can’t see from the upside-down setlist, here’s the breakdown:

“Friday” (LP2)

“Theo B” (LP2)

“Red Elephant” (LP2)

“Song About An Angel” (Diary)

“7” (Diary)

“Grendel” (Diary)

“Shadows” (Diary)

“Iscarabaid” (LP2)

“5/4” (LP2)

“Guitar & Video Games” (How It Feels To Be Something On)

“J’Nuh” (LP2)

“Sometimes” (Diary)

“10” (NEW SONG)

“In Circles” (Diary)

“48” (Diary)

“Spade & Parade” (additional track on the LP2 reissue)

That’s a killer setlist.

And what does “10” sound like? There might be some video on YouTube in t-minus any-minute-now. It wouldn’t surprise me. Here’s hoping there’s plenty more where that came from…

UPDATE: Apparently SDRE did not end up playing “10” last night. It could mean the band was having a laugh by tossing a new song title on there, or they could have just not played it. Who knows. Hopefully, we’ll find out soon enough…

Origin Story

I came across this odd post entitled “The Origin of Emo” on an unusually blank WordPress blog (though the thing appears to be written by a Thom Lloyd, which is the gmail address at the bottom of the article). It’s the only post, and it’s written in a pseudo-term-paper light, with citations that don’t really say much of anything or connote to any one article/book/etc (though some of the names provided can be linked up via a quick search). It’s all very odd.

What’s even odder is Lloyd’s thesis statement on the origin of emo, which he sort of drops in at the end:

Rites of Spring and Sunny Day Real Estate did not start the emo genre.

Eh? Lloyd continues to throw out vague, inconsistencies, many of which I can agree with (genres are a culmination of the sounds that have influenced the bands), and some that are rife for contradiction. Namely the last point:

With all of these factors in place a band and or a label had to start the wheels in motion forming the emo genre.

Huh? Didn’t he just say Rites of Spring did not start emo? And Dischord doesn’t count because emo didn’t rise solely out of it?

This happens to be an ongoing problem with people seeking a solid definition for emo: the fact that the genre/sound exists as a fluid and evolving concept that many individuals ignore simply because of the condescending nature of the term makes it damn hard to tack a pin in it and call it a done day.

But, those irrelevancies aside. Rites are duly credited for starting emo: that’s where the term as a definition for a musical sound came from. Period. Not Husker Du, who Lloyd credits as an important factor. The fact is, Zen Arcade came out after Rites were a fully formed band with an entire pedigree of songs (1984 to be exact). Rites were listening to all sorts of hardcore (nothing I’ve read remotely mentions Husker Du though), and sought to challenge the trends within their own community by embracing a poppier sound. They took from many a British popper: The Buzzcocks are most credited as an influence there. But nothing about Husker Du.

And Lloyd’s idea of indie rock fusing the gap between Rites and Sunny Day is… well, a bit much. Lloyd also calls into play grunge as an important influence on emo and bridging these two bands: hardly. As far as grunge goes, the only role that played was its skyrocketing popularity behind Nirvana led to sale numbers that helped Sub Pop move out of the red zone and avoid bankruptcy so that they could go on and sign SDRE: grunge’s influence on emo is really relevant in a business capacity. Emo was a complete change from grunge, which is why Sunny Day startled so many people in Seattle: it was different. They were different. They took from hardcore, took from bands like Rites, Fugazi, Lungfish, Shudder To Think, and many of the DC bands that Lloyd overlooked. Yes, as Lloyd mentions, there are too many bands to name, and many of them he overlooked when trying to tie these two distinct bands (ROS + SDRE together). Since when do you need to fill in a time blank in terms of bands that came about that were important and led to another important band of the same sound anyway? How many of the new shitgaze (or whatever you want to call them) bands actually took other sounds and used them in their own songwriting? It’s always possible, and often an excellent appeal to change. But I can’t see Vivian Girls having taken lots of notes on IDM when they wrote their fuzzy, 60s surf garage rock sound. (It’s possible, but after the interview where they dissed bands that use a dancey drum beat, I doubt it.)

But there are plenty of bands that “filled in those years.” Just on Dischord there were a bunch (again, Embrace, Happy Go Licky, One Last Wish, Nation of Ulysses, Fugazi, Lungfish, Shudder To Think, Jawbox etc etc). And then there’s Jawbreaker’s take on the sound from DC. And then there’s Drive Like Jehu’s take on the DC sound and it’s impact on the San Diego scene: that whole arty-hardcore-meets-DC-emocore is indebted to the DC scene. Gravity Records, Heroin, Antioch Arrow, etc etc. And all of this in the years between 1984 (Rites of Spring) and 1994 (release of Diary).

That’s a lot of time, and many of these bands aren’t remembered because, in terms of folklore or the progression of a genre, only a few – those considered to be important for one reason or another – are consistently remembered and repeated to the next person, and the next person, and so on and so forth. That is an evolution of a genre, not some influential indie band that has nothing to do with these groups: no offense to The Pixies or Sonic Youth, but those bands hardly share anything with the first wave of emo. And because genres evolve, and many within different spheres and cultures (aka underground or mainstream), it may sound different at different points along the way. So, of course emo sounds different than it did before: it’s not static. Some things grew, other bands made their individual changes, and other bands made changes on other bands’ changes. Though the definition is rather fluid, a general line is fairly recognizable (one that doesn’t exactly include Sonic Youth, who were more no wave affiliated and who’s experimentation is mostly left out of many an “emo” act, or The Pixies, who tend to have a fairly basic pop sound that, as it’s well known, is more a grunge influence than an emo one) and observable.

In Circles

When music-inclined and web-savy individuals open their browsers this morning and click over to Pitchfork, they may end up reading a review with this funny little quote:

What immediately strikes you about Diary is it doesn’t sound intended to be a gamechanger– even if it’s no surprise that one of emo’s most enduring documents is called Diary of all things. But even if it doesn’t break new ground musically, it signaled a new way to talk about the passion.

Does that sound, well, odd to you?

***

It seems these days everyone’s got a beef with Pitchfork. Either their “too cool” and ahead of the curve and used to read the site back when it was a lowly blog and now can’t be bothered with it, or they hate it’s newfound control over the culture of cool/hipsterdom, or maybe they just have never heard of it. Whatever. You can place me in some column of mild irritation. I appreciate a lot of what they do, and, for all their wreckless bashing of many a band that might not deserve it (and, hey, maybe even some that do), they’ve managed to make the world of music journalism translate into the Internet age and thrive, a feat among feats as the media self-perpetuates its own demise right next door.

The reviews are inevitably what it comes down to for people. (I hide no shame in saying that I regularly check the site for its news updates because, hey, I’m one person who can’t track every press release even when they hit my own inbox, so to see it marked up in a solid fashion ain’t too bad.) Rarely will I take a review at face value, and often I won’t even read them.

But, when I noticed the Sunny Day Real Estate reissues (Diary and LP2), I figured I’d take a gander. Of course they’d give it the “Best New Music” treatment: the folks at P-fork may have a select taste that has no use for 99.9% of emo, but they certainly can tell what has played an important role in our culture.

So it was a little dumfounding to read Ian Cohen’s remarks on the albums. Much like the quote above, I was a little confused by the review… not because he crammed so many gargantuan words where they need not be  (a problem of my own), but because he repeatedly seems to contradict himself. And not purposefully: I can see what he was getting at. But, it’s just… well, odd. To say that something isn’t “innovative” and yet completely changed things is just kinda like doublespeak. And I get what Cohen might be trying to get across: that SDRE took a combination of sounds from disparate scenes and communities and just put them together but that idea isn’t so much revolutionary as it may seem. I just fundamentally disagree with that statement, I guess.

Is this a case of Pitchfork trying to prove it’s might in writing it’s version of musical history? I can certainly see what Cohen is doing as a challenge-the-hindsight-and-historical-POV-about-SDRE type thing, but I really feel it falls flat. Reading, talking, and listening to the immediate community within which the band was wrought, there was literally nothing like them for miles around. Sure, zines and mailorders could connect music communities from across vast spaces, but it’s not like today where some kid can download kwaito and baile funke tunes and try and be the next Diplo. The Seattle scene which SDRE was geographically a part of was overrun with grunge, as it was ground zero. Most people looking for a break in the city must have looked stupid trying not to do grunge as that was what people asked for. So to say SDRE, who may have pushed a heavy and punk sound that was a brethren to grunge only in volume, wasn’t a gamechanger (for Seattle and the rest of the country). Well, you could call that a gamechanger.

Sunny Day Real Estate – “Seven” (Guitar Hero edition):

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):

Impossibly Short

Just a quick one for tonight. Caught The Impossible Shapes at the Milky Way Lounge and Lanes in Jamaica Plain this evening. First thing’s first – the Milky Way may just be the best venue in Boston, period. The Middle East is the time-olde locale for great incoming shows, as is the Paradise and a number of others. But nothing can beat the feel of the Milky Way. It’s an anomaly of a club; the place was used purely as a bowling alley until someone had the bright idea to turn it into a quasi-club. You can still go duck-pin bowling and catch a band playing on what is still the hardwood floor of a bowling lane. And they’ve got really cheap and free shows and events. If only JP weren’t so far out of the way….

Needless to say, The Impossible Shapes put on a solid set. Their music went through crazy time signature changes, hung around low-fi folk tunes before blasting them with a hit of psychedelica-cum-rawk instrumentation, and the harmonies were just great. Suffice it to say, their work reminded me of the Sunny Day Real Estate album How It Feels To Be Something On. Before all of the indie rock reunions of today, the band that brought emo to the big time with the appearance of the “Seven” video on MTV rotation in 1994, Sunny Day broke up in ’95 only to get back together a couple of years later. What came out of this reunion was a startling piece of pop music. Although I’m quite partial to Sunny Day’s second release, 1995’s LP2 (otherwise known as The Pink Album as its cover is drenched in bright pink and has no official title),
How It Feels To Be Something On is a masterpiece, a startling evolution and ideological streamline where before there was simply a caterwauling mess. Sunny Day could caterwaul with the best of them, but their first album after their reunion was startling mature, comfortably crafted, and a straight shot of pure emotion. Whereas on Sunny Day’s earlier material, frontman Jeremy Enigk fights against the drift that has swept him away, with How It Feels Enigk’s voice and lyrics are startlingly clear, straightforward, and thoughtful. Before his words were a question in search of an answer, but with How It Feels, Enigk appears to understand the question, answer, the entire picture, and the reason that’s it all there.

Sunny Day Real Estate

And the music cannot be beat. Diary and LP2, Sunny Day’s first two albums, excelled in the world of the DC, post-hardcore aesthetics of what is known as emo. The music lurched back and forth, seething with a catharsis that cannot quit, and a restrained hardcore punk fury that pushes it along. But with How It Feels, Sunny Day stretch out their musical abilities – those which were easily heard on their first two albums, but put to their experimental tests with their inevitable reunion. It may reach out into prog territory, but it works for the benefit of the album, which takes in the best of many rock-based genres for trips into tranquil waters and angelic highs. Enigk’s voice, an uncompromising falsetto, soars to unbelievable new heights, lengths that crash through the ceiling the singer had set with songs such as “J’Nuh” and “Song About An Angel” on earlier albums. For anyone who thought that emo was uniform, terrible pop, or impossible to listen to, How It Feels To Be Something On can quell the worst fears that emo went the way of the dodo after it left DC.

Also, before I sign off, check out the blog Songs Across Boston. In the coming weeks, I hope to establish a guerrilla performance schedule, a flash mob for bands, if you will. More details will be up soon on the blog, so stay tuned… it should be an interesting experiment. Anyway, here are some musics for you…

Sunny Day’s live rendition of “Guitar and Video Games” plus the “Seven” video:

The Impossible Shapes – You Are Not The Target