So, maybe I made a comment today that excited you, made you want to send me death threats or actually feel bad for making - but no. Oh no. I've stated this fact many times before, and I will forever stick by it.
Now, without sounding too old for many of you, or hipster-hysterical to most of you, I remember the first time I heard Underoath. I hated it. The first time I heard Norma Jean. I hated it. Then there were some songs that really lured me in. Before I knew it, I bought Bless the Martyr and The Changing of Times. It took some time to appreciate both of them. So when Dallas Taylor left, I was told things would be okay, since the screamer for This Runs Through would be taking over. What a phenomenal EP that was when I heard it.
There was no substance to it. It felt forced. As for Norma Jean's follow-up, I didn't get it. I just did not get it. And so on and so on this trend went on until someone shot some sense into me about O'God the Aftermath and Underoath regained respect back with Define the Great Line. These were bands moving forward as others were merely imitating. It's just not the hardcore scene, which has diced itself into too many stupid categories I can't begin to catch up, it's every genre and every cluster of bands. While many are imitating, others are challenging each other. They're feeding off of each move forward. It would be simple to recreate a money grubbing sound to turn a buck, but when you write the same album three times in a row, people will move on to something else.
Davison was right in what he said in our interview. It's not just about the music like many of these bands started out with, it's about a damn photograph or shitty neon t-shirts. Something was lost between quick label signs complained about from the majors - indies were now using their whoring game. Myspace gave everyone a face and 100,000 friends they've never interacted with. Tours were thrown together to turn a dime and thinned the sound of their line-ups into mere costume and act one, two, and three changes.
Unfortunately, They're Only Chasing Safety is one of the blueprints for the thereafter and aftermath we see today. As I bash such a beloved shit-hole of an album, I also commend the band for pressing on and constantly fighting an uphill battle to be creative and succeed by doing it in both their rabid fanbase and molding of sound. Bands like Norma Jean and The Chariot have also exerted themselves to this stance. As I listened to Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child a few weeks ago on the way to work, I could pick out some cheesy breakdowns - but bare boned and without synth-layers and high kicks. It was intense, and sure, there were some choreographed stances and stage presence to an extent - but damn if it didn't felt real.
I haven't felt that from a lot of these bands that lay claim to their influences. I wonder why?
As many of you know, or may not know, I've been working on a book about some of the post-hardcore albums I grew up with. In the past few years, I've interviewed bands, talked about the process of recording said albums and what went into and what was taken out of the final product. What motivated them? What drove them? What did they want to clean up from previous albums? What elements did they want to keep - and so on.
Besides all the technical workings and outside influences, the best information I've gathered about these records is usually the things you wouldn't have thought of: things in the production, recording errors, songs that should have remained off the album and so on. After getting off the phone with Geoff Rickly last year, I can never listen to Full Collapse the same away again. It's not like "I can never listen to this album the same way, because I have a higher appreciation for it" in the vein of my interview with David Sandstrom of Refused about The Shape of Punk to Come, but in the fact that Full Collapse was meant to be Thursday's swan song.
Sink that in for a minute.
Ten years later, I'm thankful that it wasn't.
The anticipation for the evening was already building in me. The summer I bought Full Collapse (well, rather my mother did for my good grades), I listened to it every night as I was falling asleep. I'm not sure if it was because it was that record that was so far out of my usual comfort zone or the fact that my parents were getting a divorce and there was some sort of comfort in what I was hearing, but it struck hard.
Only hours before the set tonight, I was graciously given a listen to some of Thursday's upcoming album, which the band hope to have out around mid-April. What were most capturing about the songs I heard were two things: layering and rhythm. The timing on the songs are unbelievable. But even more thrilling was the way Thursday has dismantled their "hardcore" persona and created songs. Much like a cross between (let's say for the sake of a RIYL) "In Silence" meets "Autumn Leaves Revisited" meets "Time's Arrow," the songs breathe depth and sound full. While I'll be twiddling my thumbs in anticipation for a full listen of the album in the months to come, I can't wait to dive into what may be the band's best album to date.
So after a long wait of technical difficulties, the band blasted into Full Collapse, and my head started banging. I began to air-guitar certain riffs. I was screaming with "I Am the Killer" and belting out what little bit of cold thin air I had in my lungs for "How Long is the Night?" and "A Hole in the World." There didn't need to be another round of songs either after finalizing the album. It was just perfect the way it was.
So after sitting (read: horribly getting) through A Skylit Drive and trying to keep time with the massive talent of Animals As Leaders (if you've never heard a Reflux breakdown, then you probably liked the first band's set), I was then riding high on Thursday's nostalgic run through - it was a nice set-up for Underoath's headlining gig. (Dear users, please keep your "Why is Thursday opening for Underoath whines to a minimum, there's only so much the Buzznet servers can take after the Yellowcard premiere. They're still recovering.) I've said it before, and I'll say it again, They're Only Chasing Safety is one of my all time least favorite albums, so to see the band really beef up those older songs live says a lot about their talent and progression. Spencer Chamberlain's vocals are as broad as a punch to the gut these days. His chords are absolutely menacing live as their new album is played out against their light show. Underoath have done something that not many bands pull off: They destroyed a sound they created, became better musicians all around because of it and still hold onto about the same amount of fans. They deserve every bit of their success because of that.
As sort of mismatched as the tour's bill felt, each band kind of makes a statement for the music scene today. There's going to be something you hate. There's going to be something you appreciate and blows your mind, but wouldn't casually listen to. There's going to be something that reminds you of the way things were. There is going to be something that keeps surprising you with every move it makes - all for the better.
I don't think I'll ever get what Chris Conley said about the "This is what it is," versus "I want to do that!" thing out of my head. For the longest time, well since 2003ish, I've felt completely stuck in the "I want to do that!" stage of music. While some of my favorite bands were striving on with great music (thank you Thursday, Thrice, Brand New, Saves the Day, Poison the Well, mewithoutYou, Every Time I Die), there was definitely this new explosion of breakdowns and sing-screams and synths brought on by what I believe to be two albums: The first being UnderOath's retched They're Only Chasing Safety and the "tolerable for a few months while I'm into it," Chiodos' All's Well That Ends Well. They were the Photoshop'd blueprints for every kid with what we now deem a "first world problem."
Then it got worse. They started dancing on stage. They were choreographed. Unlike the hilarity of a Gwar show, we weren't laughing with their Broadway performance, we were laughing at how ridiculous this had all gotten. When shit began to get predictable, I was out back cataloging '90s D.I.Y. and taking suggestions from the other kids at the radio station. I was done.
Then, this year, something happened. My faith in the system was restored by the likes of La Dispute, Touche Amore, Native, Former Thieves, Pianos Become the Teeth and My Heart to Joy. These bands that are on their way to restoring a sort of creativity and passionate aspect back into hardcore. The times when there was an audience breathing down the fronts and backs of the band on stage. When the crowd had just as less a disregard for themselves as the band did on stage. Sure, it was a stage, but Trash Talk will always look like they're playing the back of that U-Haul some time back.
This brings us full circle. I've been going over my End of the Year staff list, and I'm looking over three important albums that i may be overlooking at this point, and in all honesty, will probably not make my top ten. 19-year-old Adam, yes, but not this year. Is that a bad thing? No, because as I'm sitting here getting through the fury that is Long Live, it makes me so happy that these guys, Underoath and Norma Jean never gave up on their progression. This year we saw The Chariot release heavy machinery, Norma Jean release a psychological catharsis and Underoath deliver another one drenched in the post-rock that they continue to strive for. (I can also make the case for Dillinger Escape Plan's Option Paralysis - their best album to date.)
None of these albums are bad. In fact, if you like heavy music and haven't heard these records - go, find a way, now!
No, tastes change over time, and our subjectivity is constantly changing based on the same mood Conley was articulating in his discussion of how the musical trend works. More importantly than the progression, is the survival with that progression. Can you continue to make exciting music and bring your fans along for the ride? Do they get it? Do they see I See Stars as that "This is what it is," while I'm screaming at the top of my lungs in my head, "Please, stop fucking making this awful music! You're not revolutionary, you're fucking beyond annoying!"
So this blog is more of a thank you and a bow to those three (four) bands for continuing to show everyone who came after how, with the right heart and talent, you can continue to excite the old bastards that still love you. I'll be rocking out as long as you keep those punches swinging.
Progression is a dangerous tight rope that many artists face walking, and often falling to their impending doom - even if there is a minority of us that still enjoy the step, or sometimes leap, forward. Music would not be as exciting if some bands didn't try to step out of the pocket and continue to push themselves. Though, I'll be the first to admit that some bands moved just a bit too far outside their comfort zone.
I hated They're Only Chasing Safety. From the less than admirable first single of "Reinventing Your Exit" to the lackluster barrage of bands that followed, it was the bane of my existence for some years. I didn't get it. It's not that I longed for another The Changing of Times, because an album like that is now a bit behind me, but it just seemed like an easy out for the band. Then Define the Great Line dropped and turned Underoath into a completely different band. A band that seemed intent on pushing themselves as far away from such a wretched sound that built their career thus far. Lost in the Sound of Separation cements that fact. After the show, I was able to have a word with guitarist Tim McTague in which he explained that the band is going to be pushing for something even further. An "audio/visual" experience on record and in their "future live shows," something they had hoped to bring out a bit on this tour. It's still early to tell with the work that has been done in the home studio of the bus during tour, he says, but from McTague's banter, it sounds exciting and promising.
This is a show review, is it not?
Emery took the stage to two Christmas trees and a blow up Santa, doing an acapella version of "White Christmas" and launching into "So Cold I Could See My Breath." The band did a great job of ripping through their catalog with energy and ease as vocalist/keyboardist Josh Head did his best "I look like Rob Zombie's younger brother" impression and climbed atop the crowd at the end of "Walls." With the release of In Shallow Seas We Sail, I think Emery show they still have prowess, and after their set, it seemed they have the energy to keep it up.
August Burns Red doesn't let up until the end. From the beginning of "White Washed" to the closing "Composure," they run around the stage and everything sounds solid. The band are sound intent on being one of the best metal bands out there. Their show is proof of that. The "Carol of the Bells" cover was a nice touch as well.
Underoath took the stage and launched - and I don't use that term loosely - into "The Only Survivor Was Miraculously Unharmed" and "In Regards to Myself." Frontman Spencer Chamberlain strapped on a guitar for "Emergency Broadcast:The End is Near" and the groundbreaking Define the Great Line track "Casting Such a Thin Shadow." Match the energy of the newer tracks live to the showmanship of "Young and Aspiring" and "It's Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door," and you can certainly tell where the band is headed and where some fans still seat themselves in nostalgia. I'm excited for the band's future, because you can tell it in where the emphasis lies in the setlist for this tour. I'm curious to see the line the band will walk next.
I've received my United Nations limited edition CD package. Less than a week past the release date, I received my Portugal. The Man Censored Colors package finally. I didn't receive my LP though.
I'm a bit frustrated.
But good news: Special packaging really has its potential to save the business. You can't hide the fanboy that thrives within. I just don't know about a Benjamin to obtain a hand crafted mask or a huge handcrafted book or even a limited print poster-- but to each their measure of fandom I guess.
Money aside, the packaging deals as of late relate to the pressings of vinyl, something Virgil Dickerson of Suburban Home Records/Vinyl Collective once told me about his growing business. He said it has to do with owning a piece of small quantity or limited pressing. It's more special to own a piece of art that only a certain quantity of others own.
Limited pre-order packaging says something about the artists that take the time out to come up with the ideas of these things, and to do them at the best cost possible for their fans. In the latest issue of Alternative Press, UnderOath axe-man Tim McTague was described as being frustrated with the original pricing of his band's latest album's packaging deals.
Pricing is always an issue with fans. We're young and we're poor, well, I would think at least half of us anyway. So I propose a new idea. What if band's come up with around 5 or 6 items (not as far as Of Montreal went, but a good variety) and let fans make their own "package." Give fans the ability to make their own six pack of beer, that is either at a standard rate, or is gauged on price depending on the items chosen.
Another thing this all shows is the ability of a band to control another portion of what is essentially them as a business. Instead of just getting on and off stage every night, they have the ability to market themselves. They have more control of their image by having their ideas across your t-shirts, turntables and kitchen aprons. Having creative control in and outside the studio builds a better market.
Having good cooks in a kitchen means nothing if the front of the house can't present the art to the guest.
I'm sure there's distribution channels that are still dealt with, and saying that artists can completely abandon the old merchandising business model would be ignorant. They still have yet to completely abandon the distro model for records.
I'm sure when my Censored Colors LP eventually makes its way here, I'll be more than pleased with it. I enjoy the fact that artists are putting their heads into the merchandising side of themselves as a company, and it begins to pull the artist-fan relationship closer...but not too close now, we don't want to pull a Jodie Foster event here.
Happy, pre-3,000 views! Thanks for the reads everyone!