Tuesday, September 25, 2007

prEMO, dude

In the 1990s, it suddenly became musically fashionable to strip down the tenets of hardcore music and use aspects of it to produce profitably safe rock and roll music for the general listening public. The most blatant musical "style" to emanate from this change in approach to marketing music was grunge.

If grunge were to have a red-headed stepchild, its name would be emo.

Although, this writer would much rather remain unschooled in the musical make up of this specific genre, it's safe to say that it's easily identified by its loud, screeching guitars accompanied by EMOtional singing. The unfortunate thing is that it comes off seeming rather foolish; as if somehow these kids who create this music are attempting to mold themselves into a modern-day, hipsteresque, American interpretation of Morrissey but lacking the poetic verse to carry it with the same flavor and character that the ex-Smithy possesses.

However, despite this genre's shortcomings and lack of insight, there can always be an exception to the perceived norm. This exception speaks itself rather loudly in the form of the Chicago trio Today's My Super Spaceout Day. Although, the name of the band is very indicative of this style of musical musing, the engineering quality of the album Stars Made From Scars is phenomenal and the band's live performance equals that. A live performance of the band hints at reminiscence of live acts by bands such as Joy Division but with a modern bent that keeps one plugged into the present. It's the best of both worlds. The mulitple textures and layers of the music itself is something to behold; Areos Ledesma of The Dust Lounge, Christian Adams, and Blaise Barton of Scientific Mastering (not forgetting the musicians themselves!) have created a masterpiece, if anyone could boast some such polyglot about an emo album.

Stars Made From Scars


killin_demons said...

I love you and your blog too.

b3A7n1k said...

Thanks. Have you had a chance to partake yet or are you still in need of a tutorial?

Josh said...

My god, dave. Your aural romanticism is kicking my ass on a daily basis. Thanks, man.

Josh said...

(former hoc / next-door-neighbor josh, btw.)

b3A7n1k said...

Hey, pal.

Glad to hear it. I miss seeing you around the house; I've been busy and gone a lot- as usual.

Enjoy the blog! More to come...

Josh said...

Awesome. The downloading is going slow because it's extremely limited. I'll come by the house soon, and perhaps I can grab some of the zip files directly from your computer, if you still have them.

See you soon!

b3A7n1k said...

Some of that stuff has been saved to CD. God knows where. It's in a huge pile somewhere in my room and you've seen my room so you know what a task it might be to search for some of it. You're probably going to find it more readily available online at this stage. Yeah, the downloading can be slow but I guess that's the trade off for obtaining music that's so damn hard to find in the first place.

Jeff said...

Hey killin_demons...

Has b3a7n1k ever responded to any comment you've left? Don't worry, me neither.

b3A7n1k said...


I think you better check again!

: )

David said...

wow, i appreciate this blog, but you could not be less educated about the relationship between hardcore punk, grunge, and emo. what you've posted here is straight misinformation.

b3A7n1k said...

Wow. Someone actually reads this stuff?

I normally try to curb my opinionated ranting when I do these posts so it's humorous to me that the one time I allow myself the license to indulge, I receive the accusation that I'm a peddler of misinformation. It's a good thing that I proffered the disclaimer that I "would much rather remain unschooled in the musical make up of this specific genre." I suppose my piss taking of music that I don't have a very high opinion of has defiled the hipster knowledge base?

My wanton flogging of these genres was less an attempt to portray historical accuracy and more about my own outlook on these styles but since david here has upped the ante, I might as well throw out some clarifying statements for those who need one.

Sure, it's oversimplifying to suggest that record label moguls were the only reason that emo and grunge were made manifest. Some bands with hardcore roots were obviously already heading in that direction.

Take emo, as an example. The first time I ever heard anything that could be classified as such was in 1987 when Dag Nasty released Wig Out At Denko's. It was a slower hardcore style with a more emotional style of singing coming from the diaphragm rather than the throaty vocals that one would have previously expected from a punk band.

When Brian Baker was trying to put together this outfit, he approached John Burton (from The Huns in the late '70s and then with Crotchrot, who played a gig with Minor Threat, in the early '80s) and described what sound he was going for. He was describing the hardcore musical style but fronted with singing vocals instead of screaming. John's response was "Why the fuck would you wanna do that?" In hindsight, he was kind of wishing he'd given the idea a chance as it caught on.

I suppose you could include other more obvious bands from the Dischord record label like Embrace and Fugazi who helped kickstart the whole "emo" sound and solidify it into an actual genre. Hell, you can even hear traces of it in British anarcho-punk! Have a listen to Flowers In The Dustbin and you'll understand what I'm talking about- it's this interesting mixture of punk with lyrical brooding and self-loathing.

My depiction of emo as the red-headed stepchild was more about its financial standing in the music community than an attempt to depict some kind of chronology in the evolutionary growth within the so-called alternative music scene. A really good way to sum up what I feel about emo is encapsulated in this most excellent blog article scribed by Niels titled VILE CHERUBIC UNREST.

When you talk about grunge, it's easiest to mention Nirvana and Kurt Cobain's past interviews where he cites Flipper as a musical influence. This citation is a pretty obvious connection to hardcore. However, you can also take a look at Mudhoney, who apparently liked The Dicks, and see that some of the members of that band later formed a band with Tim Kerr (of Big Boys' fame) called The Monkeywrench. Let's take a look at how this played out.

In 1988-89, hardcore seemed to be officially dead; just about every release pressed in this year was utter shit. All of the output on SST Records was going into this seemingly bland direction that resembled more and more what hardcore was trying to get away from in the first place. Every album released on Restless Records seemed to have no punch when it came to the audio engineering. All the bands related to the Crass record label and the anarcho-scene seemed to have plunged off of a cliff. Rap, no matter how lyrically inane, suddenly became the angry youth's soundtrack. Punk was no longer a threat- culturally or musically- and had lost its significance.

In step the major record companies looking to make a buck off of other people's creativity. I suppose the Sub-Pop bands were an easy target because by that time, any hint of what underground music actually stood for could be easily left on the cutting board once the cookie cutter was applied.

Nirvana's Never Mind was released in 1991; initially, it felt like a musical triumph over the record companies. It was always a treat to hear hardcore on the radio (as it almost never happened) and this was the next to the best thing. However, six months later, I wished I'd never heard the fucking song before and I realized that once again we'd been had by the music industry- just like in 1977.

I found that the term I'd first read in the Toxic Shock Records catalog in 1984 was now being touted to describe bands like Pearl Jam. Admittedly, the expression "alternative" when referring to underground music was already being slowly introduced into musical vernacular by describing bands like Midnight Oil in the late 1980s. However, in the '90s, "alternative" had actually BECOME the shit that radio stations were shoveling down our throats and Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden had become the new Whitney Houston and Madonna. The music industry had seemingly accomplished the impossible.

I have to ask... alternative to what? So much for introducing an unstable third element into the mix and negating the two stable opposing elements. I guess this summation isn't appropriate, however, because by this point, hardcore/punk (whatever the fuck you wanna call it) had become stabilized.

Taken into context, it seems that assimilation is always inevitable and this reality always gives birth to new underground movements once the changed society has come to accept what they once vehemently declared to be so beneath them. It's when we see a change beginning to happen around us and we can now define our dreams or affix a label onto that which was once unnameable that the beginning of the end actually occurs. This has happened over and over again in music and in society.

Having once shared the same space with those who dared breathe life into their dreams without need for fame or reciprocity, it's difficult to describe in words just how much what has transpired since has only served to cheapen the experience we all attempted to generate.

It's a bitter pill to swallow and I'd much rather gob it back out at the cyberworld. If you think you can do better, then "start your own blog" and LET PEOPLE READ IT instead of hiding behind a firewall.