Tag Archives: Mid-West

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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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:

Double Double

In one corner, weighing in at 6 members is The Mae Shi, with support from The Death Set, at Great Scott.

The Mae Shi live

The Mae Shi live

In the other, pulling together as a duo is No Age, with a little help from High Places and Abe Vigoda, at the Middle East Downstairs.

No Age

No Age

It is a challenge to behold… For music fans of Boston, tonight’s concert calendar will have a tough choice, but either event will provide a winner. This may be a match for an individual’s night, but it is no way a battle between acts. This cavalcade of musicians rolling through town represents some of the brightest acts from the three pivotal underground music communities today.

The Mae Shi, No Age, and Abe Vigoda mastered their craft and honed in on their acts out in LA. There, they (along with a multitude of other acts) formed a community dedicated to furthering the boundaries of art and punk. It’s a living, breathing unit that can be seen in the 40 Bands 80 Minutes documentary (it is what it says – 40 bands performing 2 minute songs in a sweaty LA venue) or on any regular evening at The Smell, the all ages venue that No Age placed smack dab on the cover of their 2007 album Weirdo Rippers. With the critical acclaim these three acts – alongside peers such as HEALTH and Mika Miko – have been receiving, the LA underground scene has once again been thrown into the national music limelight.

The Smell

The Smell

Although LA has received a considerable amount of attention, so has Brooklyn (home of High Places) and, more than any other area, Baltimore (home of The Death Set). Forever cast in the shadows of nearby, larger areas (Baltimore has DC, and although Brooklyn is a part of NYC, Manhattan has always dominated the other burroughs), these tiny, seemingly-culturally deprived areas have burst with creative ingenuity in all forms of the arts. Baltimore has built an insular community to match its small sized, and has since been propelled to the national level thanks in part to the Wham City collective and its unofficial head Dan Deacon; in little pockets of a city that most residents have either forgotten or never cared about, out came a sprawling arts basin that seems as communally inbred as it is creative. Venture north a number of hours and you hit Brooklyn, itself a sprawling mass of space that’s cheaper – and therefore, more attractive to aspiring artists looking to make it in the big city. Any busted-up storefront could easily be turned into an art gallery or performance space, and a good number of them art (at least in the Williamsburg area). Out of it has formed numerous art-punk acts as wide spread, yet communally linked; TV On The Radio, Battles, Parts & Labor, and a ton of others all call this place home.

Baltimores Video Hippos at Brooklyns Death by Audio

Baltimore's Video Hippos at Brooklyn's Death by Audio

Both Baltimore and Brooklyn offer scenes that are in close proximity to areas of cultural resonance, but their chance location has given both places an almost-secluded quality which has allowed these communities to prosper and trade ideas amongst one another without the eye of the mainstream music world staring down upon them. LA, though a mainstream cultural capital in its own respect, is so spread out that over the past few decades, it has allowed for numerous musically-based culture movements to spawn and spread out of little pockets in the vast city side and across the suburban sprawl. These communities are created and developed in the guise of complete creativity, without the influence and impact of commercial interest to hinder, attract, or distract anything or anyone from the ultimate goal of creation. These qualities are the typical stamp-of-approval for the development of underground art communities in the US; the resources are there in almost every location in America, but it takes a special formula of location, individuals, and atmosphere to make it work.

This is an important aspect of the development and continued thriving of emo as an underground cultural force. It’s still one that drives the many different voices of emo in its current underground status. True, emo has become a fashionable commodity, but it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t continued to thrive as an underground culture, one separate from its mainstream state. It’s the ideas of creativity and independence that the innovators of the culture imbued into its artistic essence that not only kept emo in the underground for so long (around 15-17 years, depending on when you choose to mark its beginning and entrance into the mainstream). When what became known as “emo” began in the ashes of DC’s hardcore scene, a good chunk of the punk music community scorned it as hardcore had yet to hit its dramatic fall on the national level. DC was (and in many ways, still is) ignored by the music industry as an important place, so emo transformed, unfettered by outsiders and made for the better by community members. As Fugazi became the scene’s main touring act and magnet, their sound became a beacon to anyone looking beyond the convention of punk and broadcast a vibrant and diverse aural image of emo around the world.

Fugazi

Fugazi

From there, communities outside of the insular DC scene began to form around the idea of emo. The strongest cross-state emo community to arise didn’t occur until the mid 90s. While connections formed among artists from different scenes (Sunny Day Real Estate and Shudder To Think as touring partners comes to mind), the mid 90s provided a time when scenes across the country formed their own little pockets and ideas of emo, yet would come together to share them. Outside of DC (which added Chisel and The Dismemberment Plan to their list), the East Coast had pockets of sound; NYC had Texas Is The Reason, New Jersey had Lifetime, Boston had Karate and Jejune (who later moved to California), and down in Florida (if you want to count it as the East Coast) there was Hot Water Music.

Mineral

Mineral

But the mid 90s and emo will forever be associated with the Mid-West, where the bands were as connected to their hometown scenes as they were with the rest of the middle-country-divide. Cap’n Jazz, The Promise Ring, Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, Christie Front Drive, Braid, The Get Up Kids, Boy’s Life, and dozens more upon hundreds of those which may never be heard by the masses have formed a dominant portrait of a land and time in the emo narrative. The places they came from are all different and so are their ideas, but they all came together to form a variety of sounds that continue to exist within popularized forms of emo today. Consider it the time of multiculturalism in underground American punk. While the national hardcore scene transformed local sounds into one big rule-based notion of musical defiance summarized in a minute and a half of screams and thrashing guitars, the mid 90s Mid-West emo scene allowed for individual pockets to develop their version of emo undeterred by outsiders all while coming together to form bonds and trade ideas to enhance their individual perspectives. This can be seen in everything from split singles on vinyl (such as the Jimmy Eat World/Christie Front Drive split that attracted the attention of Captiol Records) to a shared creation of lyrics (The Promise Ring’s “Picture Postcard” attributes some lyrical content to Braid’s Bob Nanna), to simple ties of friendship that extend past inter-state routes. Just as the movers and shakers of today’s underground music scenes breach state lines to form communities while continuing to build their local ones, emo became a strong presence throughout America before it became a mainstream phenomenon. Those connections kept it a living, moving center of a community, and that notion continues to drive like-minded individuals who operate under whatever label they choose to this very day.
No Age – Eraser

The Mae Shi – Vampire Beats (video):

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 actsĀ  – 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:

Taboo And Alphabets Too

Last night a bunch of my friends threw a show in their house… a comedy show that is. Whereas most young towns have a thriving music scene, the comedy community in Boston is everything that most insular scenes hope they can be; diverse, thriving, widespread, intimate, creative, and a network of people who are friends first and competitors never. And funny. Man are they funny. Everything from the quick-and-fast rules of delivery to hip-hop rhymes and beats about taekwondo to odd-ball rants by folks featured on Comedy Central, it was all enhanced by the intimacy of the tiny Allston-based house.

I capped off the night with what must have been an hour dedicated to playing the wordsmith worthy game Taboo. After some quick, catch-and-release trials, a group of us decided to play “hardcore,” where you could only give one clue in order for others to get the word in question in one guess. It’s a lot more challenging than the usual method of playing the game, but it sure is fun. In retrospect, the cap-off of Taboo featuring performers from the night’s previous comedy collaboration was odder than I had imagined at the time. Well, odder in recollection than experience; as most of us were all friends, it really wasn’t all that weird. But the boundaries that individuals often place on society with labels such as “performer” would elevate members of the community above others, when really it just provided for an interesting initial introduction for everyone present in the house. The atmosphere lacked any pretension associated with elevating members of the community, the intimacy of the event, the intelligence of the performance, and the humor involved made it all seem like any other night hanging out with friends… just some of those friends had the incentive to stand up and talk to a crowd for ten minutes.

Combining a general lack of pretension with musical intelligence, creativity, communal intimacy, and a warmth of humor is Chicago’s Cap’n Jazz. Though they broke up by the mid-90s, their impact has been felt throughout the emo world, most immediately in the then-growing presence of the Mid-Western underground emo scene that was about to reach a tipping point. Their influence had immediate impact with the culmination of post-Cap’n Jazz projects, most notably with 2nd guitarist Davey Von Bohlen’s side project The Promise Ring coming to the focal point of the national emo community. However, brethren Mike and Tim Kinsella have also had their fare share of impact with acts such as Joan of Arc and Owls (as well as American Football and Owen), two highly experimental groups that aren’t as well known as The Promise Ring, but certainly have their fare share of influence. Still getting shout-outs in magazines such as Alternative Press (last month’s cover story on the 23 most influential punk bands of the last 23 years had a great spread on band), the Cap’n Jazz legacy was compacted into a singular double-album release in 1998, Analphabetapolothology (now there’s the Taboo-worthy word).

Cap\'n Jazz

Brimming from end to end with unmeasurable catharsis, Analphabetapolothology takes some getting used to before you can grab those nuggets of mid-90s emo gold. Then again, Cap’n Jazz were never shooting for pop gold, just music that challenged themselves, made the band members satisfied with their own creation, and had a particular subcultural connotation. It’s a bit of a continuation of the hardcore punk tradition (and hardcore can readily be seen as a starting point for the members of Cap’n Jazz, not to mention countless of other alternative bands that continues on to today), where the band wanted to make something profoundly different then what was being pushed out on the mainstream and have it mean something to their particular community. But, while hardcore became uniform in all senses of the word, Cap’n Jazz’s hold on emo was as angular as the guitar-work involved in it. They called in the horns, lyrics that weren’t all there (at least, upon first glance), gritty dynamic changes that recall Sunny Day Real Estate played by a garage band, pop-worthy harmonies, and song structures that subverted all forms of the norm.

The best and brightest of emo today have Cap’n Jazz to thank for the fuel of creativity that somehow manages to bubble up, as if untapped, while the rest of the world thinks of emo as simply shallow. Musically, you can hear Cap’n Jazz’s influence on a vast array of emo artists. Tim’s almost-whispered, rant-singing at the start of “Puddle Splashers” recalls a more musically ambiguous version of what Taking Back Sunday vocalist Adam Lazzara attempts to create, while “Que Suerte!” sounds like a messier, more cathartic mix of what makes Thursday’s work so captivating.

Yet beyond later influence was Cap’n Jazz’s immediate impact on the community around them. The band appeared at a time just before emo began to solidify its main aesthetic elements, and Cap’n Jazz challenged every idea of singular aesthetic until its end. The biggest acts of mid-90s, Mid-Western emo not only came from disparate places on the map, but had disparate ideas in their musical take on the sound that originally had been birthed in DC. But under the musical heretofore of bands like Cap’n Jazz, they helped open the community to anyone with any original and challenging idea of emo, not simply to those who had pretensions to how to run a scene. It was more about the people involved in the community rather than following a guidebook, and for Cap’n Jazz’s musical and personal role in the national scene, it’s much greater than the first listen of Analphabetapolothology might lead you to believe. In a world where a post-hardcore sound could share space with bands who brought hardcore, pop-punk, pop, and whatever rule-based genre to the table, it was Cap’n Jazz’s original blending of ideas that helped emo form so many different strands and creative impulses for years to come.

Cap\’n Jazz – Little League