Tag Archives: Shudder To Think

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.

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Best Concerts of 2008

“Best of” lists for records have only become a commodity in recent decades because of technology – I’d like to see what the “best phonograph cylinder list of 1908” was (my guess is Thomas Edison dominated the top ten). However, live music has been around since… well, I can’t quite tell you the exact date, but it’s been around for awhile. There’s just something about a live performance that’s hard to compress into an MP3 file, just like there’s something about recorded sound that cannot be duplicated to the point in a real environment. And who would want that? Some of the best shows I’ve seen this year (and any year at that) have the thrill of the “performance in the moment” – a special quality of experiencing the music literally grabbing you, those around you, and the musicians themselves – that excel beyond the normal trappings of a “rock” show. These lists are always tough, because, unlike records, not everyone was there to experience the moment when (enter your favorite artist here) played (enter your favorite song here) in a certain way in (enter specific venue/town/etc here). This particular list is quite tricky, as a large chunk of shows I’ve seen this year I’ve had some organizational role in; for the sake of this list and whatever hard-to-get-to performance I helped put on, I’ve excluded all those shows I’ve put on in the past year (despite the fact that many of those will always remain favorites of mine). But, without getting ahead of myself, here are my top ten concerts I attended as a paying gig-goer/whatever you want to call it from 2008 (I apologize for leaving off the dates for these shows):

10. TV On The Radio at the Wilbur Theater (Boston)

Six times, and each viewing was a charm, though this performance came with a price, and I’m not talking about the expensive nosebleed seats. Like any number of listeners of “independent” or “underground” music, I was attracted to TVOTR and other acts because they exemplified something entirely different than what was being peddled to the masses… and I wanted to get away from the masses. So it’s a little odd when the masses show up – I wholly enjoy all the success that this group has been getting, but it’s a little upsetting when the only song that gets the crowd moving is their single from a few years ago (“Wolf Like Me”). You’d think people who’d plunk down money for any show over $20 would at least be willing to dance to songs; I’ve never seen a crowd so dumbfounded by a performance. And some of that was the sheer power of TVOTR (the clip below doesn’t do justice to physically seeing them). Their set was surely as heartfelt as any other I’d seen, they mixed in a wealth of excellent new material and blended it in with their older songs, and they kept it fresh with the addition of a horn section, mixing up and rearranging compositions while retaining their original essence. It’s impossible to contain Tunde’s vocal prowess on the page, same as the entire band’s instrumental whirlwinds, so I’ll just leave it at that. If only everyone had their Dancing Choose on…

 

TV On The Radio – Dreams (live, Wilbur Theater):


9. Subtle/Zach Hill/Pattern Is Movement at the Middle East Upstairs (Boston)

After a period of concert-detox, this triple bill of underground oddballs was just the thing I needed to get back into the live show groove. Pattern Is Movement opened the show with a deft display of minimalist punk drumming smashed headstrong into a wave of gothic organ/keyboard work – and man did this duo enjoy their time onstage. Zach Hill kicked it in gear with his “backing band” Peer Pressure (aka a pre-recorded tableau) and for fourty or so minutes my eyes and ears were subject to some of the fastest, careening display of drumwork I’ve ever witnessed. And to cap off an excellent show were Subtle; after a summer soundtracked by this band, I was ready to see this group pull off their egnimatic sound in a live setting. They certainly didn’t dissapoint. With Doseone spitting lyrics a million miles a minute and the rest of the band covering an amalgam of instruments, they created an intricate pattern wholly unique to their presence in the moment. And it wasn’t a bad way to start a birthday either.

Zach Hill and Peer Pressure – Necromancer (live, Middle East):

8. Liars with No Age at Paradise Rock Club (Boston)

It’s great when you see a band surprise you in concert and never see it coming – so went the tale of my Liars/No Age show. I’d been having trouble getting into Liars and heard great things about their live set; I’d heard great things about No Age and enjoyed what music of their’s I’d heard; I’d had a free weekend and desperately wanted to go see a show that I wasn’t involved in planning. What a treat. No Age seemed dwarfed on the rather-lengthy stage at the Paradise, but their zeal couldn’t be contained by the space or their place as openers, as they cleanly burst from one great hardcore-pop gem to the next. It was tough to top, but Liars were up for the challenge. Frontman Angus Andrew barely left his chair in the center of the stage, but was a riveting ringleader, headbanging to the steady, pulsating music that grabbed my rib cage and wouldn’t let go. And I no longer have any problem picking up their recorded material.

Liars – Clear Island (live, Paradise Rock Club):

7. Why? at the MFA (Boston)

Sure, I complained about the conceit of close-minded hipsters at this Why? show in a previous post, but that was only a slight blight on what was a powerful performance. Simply the fact that the band forced people out of their seats and onto the stage by the end of the show is a testament to the force of this band’s live draw. Beyond that, there’s just something about the way they play live. It could be Yoni Wolf’s nasally drawl hitting every note just right; it could be the instrumental rearrangement of numerous songs, turning many an aesthetically muddy piece into fully-fledged bangers. It could be the great catharsis that came with dozens and dozens of fans passionately screaming alongside Wolf’s verbose lyrical displays. And it’s easily the combination of all of these things that really hit it all home.

Why? – Yo Yo Bye Bye (live, MFA):

6. Mission of Burma performing all of Vs. at Paradise Rock Club (Boston)

This show was a wet dream for any Mission of Burma fan – their entire first full length performed in full. Add on two encores and a venue packed with the hometown crowd and you’d be hard pressed to not be pumping your fists in the air. Even though Burma decided to do the whole “play your best/favorite/seminal album in full,” they subverted the business as usual method of performing these kind of shows and began with a handful of tracks at the end of the record (“Laugh The World Away,” “OK/No Way,” etc). And with the whole band in perfect synchronicity, it was simply an astounding show, with one great song after another. But, is that really any different from a “normal” Burma show?

Mission of Burma – The Ballad of Johnny Burma (live, Paradise):

5. Mark Kozelek at the MFA (Boston)

Mark Kozelek (aka Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters) was completely at ease in the MFA auditorium. Outright I was happy simply to be at this show; after several years of trying, I’d made it to a live performance featuring one of the most moving voices I’ve listened to in years. And that voice didn’t let down; the minute Kozelek opened with “Trucker’s Atlas,” he on an acoustic guitar accompanied by a touring partner on another guitar, the hair on my arms stood on end when Kozelek made an impromptu humming pattern where there was none on the record. And it just got better, with Kozelek knocking out hits from the past three Sun Kil Moon records and digging deep into his Red House Painters and solo material. Even with the live version of “Duk Koo Kim” stretching into the double digit minute run time, the show was as moving and haunting as anything Kozelek has committed to record. His encore, four different songs from his long repertoire strung together in a makeshift medley left me completely elated for days on end.

Unfortunately, there is no video of this show available online at the moment. Instead, here is a brief snippet of Kozelek performing Duk Koo Kim in California from 2004:

4. Ponytail at The Talking Head (Baltimore)

Spend half a day in a tiny Baltimore club and you’d be tired as shit. But cram that place with 50 friends and put Ponytail onstage long after midnight, and it makes for one hell of a party. I’d convinced a friend to drive down to Baltimore from DC to check out the band live, and was it worth the (sometimes awkward) wait. After seeing these folks play three times this year, their hometown show was by far the best out of the lot, with the entire band putting their whole essence into one captivating half hour that sent normally stiff concert goers into a spastic, dancing frenzy. With Molly Siegel’s bemusing and careening whoops and hollers at the helm, the band took off from the first song until the seven-minute closer, “Celebrate the Body Electric.” I left Baltimore tired and ultimately triumphant.

Ponytail – Celebrate the Body Electric (live, Talking Head):

3. Parts & Labor at Siren Music Festival (New York)

Siren’s a tough gig to do. There’s the scorching heat, the terrible sound, the crowds of oft-disinterested scenesters packed into one big sweaty mess, and the whole thing takes up most of the day. Great bands have gone through mediocre and ok sets at the hands of this festival. Parts & Labor weren’t one of them. Returning from a European tour, they gave the hometown crowd all that was in them, which was quite a bit. It was my first viewing of the band as a quartet, and it certainly knocked me out, as the group delivered one of the best performances at Siren I’ve seen, period. The hits kept coming through (“The Gold We’re Digging,” “Death,” etc), and Parts & Labor were as taught as ever. And thankful to boot; it’s often rare to see a band member smile while performing, but Dan Friel grinned while tossing his head back and forth throughout the set. And if you didn’t believe that the band really cared about each and every song of their set, perhaps the moment when B.J. Warshaw launched his well-worn bass into the crowd at the end of “Changing of the Guard” sealed the deal. It certainly did for one lucky fan.

Unfortunately, there is no video of this show available online at the moment. Instead, here is a performance of Changing of the Guard in Dallas from this year:

2. Boredoms at Paradise Rock Club (Boston)

I think my mind literally melted during this show. Boredoms have put out a lot of records – many of them unlistenable and unpalatable for those with the slightest distaste for punk. But I’d be hard pressed to find someone who likes to dance who wouldn’t have freaked out at this performance. With three members on drums and frontman Eye on a combination of synths, 8-necked guitar, two strange glowing balls of light that made static noise, and random chanting, Boredoms put together a fantastic and fluid set that was more a rave than a punk show. Hip shaking syncopated beats  provided by the three drumsets gave way to techno-like synths with change ups that tugged at your ears and feet. It lasted well over and hour and a half, but ended far to quickly.

Unfortunately, there is no video of this show available online at the moment. Instead, enjoy this selection from their ATP set from 2006:

1. The Baltimore Round Robin Tour at Mass Art – Feet Night (Boston)

This is what shows should be like. Bands packed in, playing for the thrill of performance and a sense of urgency that cannot be covered by a ticketmaster fee, a big chaotic mess wherein things fall apart, but everyone is there to help pick it up, where concert goers and performers intermingle freely and lines are blurred to the point where no one really cares who is who, where one act who may not mean anything to folks outside of a certain city performs as an equal to other musicians who get more press than folks who spend lifetimes in the PR industry could dream of, where a four and a half hour show gets you twelve different bands of a diverse set of genres, all pleading with you to dance and enjoy life and take a chance because hell they just did by treking around parts of North America to show you their community. It’s about community and it’s about creating and it’s about music for the sake of music and not hype or fame. And man is it thrilling. So thrilling it’s made attending most shows afterwards seem downright complacent by design. You have to give it a hand to the Wham City crew for pulling that show together; equipment broke, set times ran long, the Pozen Center at Mass Art smelled like a middle school locker room, but it fucking worked. It was in the moment, and the moment was captivating. Although some of the acts didn’t quite perform as passionately/deftly/well as others, they tore it up just by being there. Double Dagger brought the political punk mosh pit, but not before the Deathset provided a heady mix of electronics and thrash punk, while Smartgrowth had some downright danceable mashups, Future Islands got everyone to dance even in cramped conditions, Videohippos overcame technical difficulties to bring some lo-fi dance pop, and Nuclear Power Pants were downright in-your-face hilarious. Of course props to Dan Deacon, who ended the evening with a stellar performance of “Wham City”; as most of the hype-following crowd members had abandoned the show in droves before the end of the fourth and final go-round of the Round Robin, it felt like one big communal celebration, with members of the Wham City family and the concert die-hards dancing and singing around Deacon to what has ultimately become that community’s theme song. Right then, everyone there was a member of Wham City and a performer in the traveling circus of the Baltimore Round Robin. Now that’s in the moment.

Dan Deacon at Feet Night (live, Mass Art):

(Very) Honorable Mentions:

Iron & Wine (Pearl Street, Northampton): Sam Beam’s voice can warm a thousand + person crowd while the rain outside provides ample acoustic rhythms.

Shudder to Think (Paradise Rock Club, Boston): Reuniting for the first tour after their break up in the later half of the 90s, these first-wave prog-emo rockers kicked out all the best of the best of their backcatalog.

Edie Sedgwick (Oxfam Cafe, Somerville): Minimalist twee-styled punk done by a full band – complete with a couple of chorus singers in matching dresses – and an outlandish sense of self-aware humor not unlike labelmate trailblazers Nation of Ulysses and you’ve got one hell of a fun dance party.

Videohippos (Union Square, Somerville): A great set as part of an outdoor art festival in Union Square, this duo brought a surprising amount of energy and whipped up people into something resembling a dancing frenzy.

The Hold Steady/Drive By Truckers (The Orpheum Theater, Boston): These two bands just want to have fun (as if the smile on Craig Finn’s face didn’t tell you), and the Hold Steady certainly stole the show with one guitar-fueled-Americana song after another. Their pairing may have felt a little awkward, but these two bands certainly had a great time.

After the Jump Festival at four stages in Brooklyn: Four stages of free sets by a range of Brooklyn artists, this was an excellent place to check out those artists about to burst onto the national scene. Great sets by Noveller, an acoustic two-manned version of Extra Life, a pre-iPod fame Chairlift, and finally, where would a great noise fest be without Ponytail.

Dr. Dog (Rickenbacker Park, Philadelphia): People of all ages from all across town packed into a park on a beautiful day – isn’t that what summer’s all about? And Dr. Dog was there to pull all those warm ‘n fun summer feelings together with over 2 hours of classic rock cum modern indie. If only every summer day could be so great…

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 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)