All Else Failed have been around for quite a while--I first heard about them over 6 years ago, when a friend of mine came back from a show he'd been to in the Delaware area, bearing a CD and some tales of wild onstage behavior. At the time, they had two singers, and my friend told tales of one of them getting smacked in the forehead with a guitar headstock, only to finish the set as if nothing had happened while blood poured down his face and onto his clothes. In researching the band on the internet, I heard even more dramatic stories. One person told of a show where the two singers collided during a particularly intense performance, and proceeded to drop their microphones and get into a full-on fistfight that lasted the rest of the song--after which, they got up, picked up their microphones, and continued the set as normal. Listening to the CD my friend had picked up--a European release that combined their first full-length, "A Most Bitter Season," with a more recent 10-inch entitled "In My God's Eye"--only reinforced the impression that these wild stories had initially given. It was brutal, chaotic, and emotional, all at the same time. As a listening experience it was both exhilirating and, ultimately, draining.
I've gotta admit--I'm a sucker for shit like that. Despite the fact that most of what I listen to, especially these days, is more melodic and less intense than the sort of heavy hardcore that I'm describing here, it's this kind of music that I always come back to. When I actually got serious about a band I played in and worked hard on keeping that band going for seven-plus years, it was a band that played that type of music. I love the kind of stuff that compels the listener to move, to thrash themselves around in a violent, spastic manner, the kind of stuff that causes the people playing the music to rock out so hard that they hurt themselves. I know all too well what it feels like to be so upset, so crushed by life, that you need this sort of violent catharsis just to stay sane.
All Else Failed knew that feeling, too--"A Most Bitter Season" and especially "In My God's Eye" reflected this quite well. There wasn't anything particularly amazing about their musicianship, but they wrote good songs and played them with a lot of heart. They could occasionally get bogged down by dragging out a midtempo riff for too long, but they also showed flashes of originality--in particular on the CD's last song, "Stale". This 12-minute epic is the entire second side of "In My God's Eye" in its original vinyl form, and while it starts out as a typical All Else Failed track, after three minutes or so the brutal hardcore gives way to a slow, descending minor-chord riff that is carried by bass and undistorted guitars. Overtop of it, vocalist Luke Muir forsakes his usual agonized screaming in favor of a tormented croon. At first it's easy to expect this to just be a minor break in the song, but instead, it continues on and on, taking up the last 2/3 of the song. Instead of getting old, as one might expect, the riff mesmerizes the listener, until one finds oneself sucked completely into the gloomy, morose atmosphere that All Else Failed create. In fact, one night around the time I first got "In My God's Eye", I made a midnight run to Wal-Mart for some groceries with the tape I made of it in my car's tape deck. I got to the store during "Stale"'s drawn-out ending, and I can remember quite well how I walked around the store picking out my groceries in a total funk. That was probably the most depressing grocery store trip of my life, and yet as soon as the tape finished and I put something else in on the drive back, I found my mood improving immediately. This was the kind of effect that All Else Failed could create.
My friends and I tried to book them with our own bands down here in Virginia a couple of times in the year or so after we first heard them, but it seemed like All Else Failed were plagued with bad luck. Sometimes they were having member troubles, other times they had no transportation, and for one reason or another we were never able to successfully book them. Despite the fact that a lot of what first made me interested in them were hair-raising tales of their intense live shows, I still to this day have never seen them play. In fact, after that first year or so of trying to book them, they seemed to disappear completely. I heard so little about them that I assumed they had broken up. However, towards the end of last year, I heard they had a new album coming out. I didn't know who was going to be releasing it, when it would come out, or how easy it would be to find, but before I could ever get the answer to any of those questions, I happened upon a copy while browsing at my local independent record store. Of course, I snapped it right up.
You could be forgiven for not expecting too much from them at this point, considering the advances that have occurred in hardcore's sound since All Else Failed last released an album. You could be forgiven for thinking that, without the sort of metalcore tricks that have grown common during their years of absence, a band wouldn't have much to go on at this point. But what you'd be missing with those quick assumptions is the fact that, when this style is done well, it works every bit as well as it did the first time you ever ran across it. In fact, All Else Failed sound better than they ever did before. Back when I first heard them, the influence of metal on hardcore wasn't entirely unheard of, and people were even starting to use the term "metalcore". However, things have still changed a lot since then. These days, it seems like any hardcore band that wants to come off as "brutal" or "intense" has a whole equipment case full of tricks acquired from the metal scene. All Else Failed had none of that sort of thing going on six years ago, and they have made no attempt to change with the times. There are no blast-beats here, no complicated technical time changes, no Gothenberg-style melodic lead runs, and no crushingly slow mosh breakdowns. What you get from All Else Failed now is the same thing they provided before, only with the sort of marked improvement that comes when a band spends several years woodshedding, honing their craft instead of trying for fame. It seems that this woodshedding wasn't even necessarily a matter of choice. It was only after visiting the website listed in the CD's liner notes that I learned they'd released an album in 2001, entitled "Archetype." Apparently, it sank without a ripple, and they were forced to spend the next few years working jobs and saving up money. It's a shame they were forced into these circumstances, but on the other hand, it has done them plenty of good. "This Never Happened" is their best album yet.
They must have been very excited to get it done, too--they had no permanent drummer at the time the album was recorded. For eight of the 14 tracks here, they've enlisted the Dillinger Escape Plan's incredibly talented Chris Pennie to fill in. Surprisingly, he does very little of the sort of thing he's become famous for in Dillinger. With the notable exception of the second song, "Kinetic", Pennie sticks to keeping a beat ably and with little use of the complicated jazz techniques he's become famous for. If anything, this speaks even more for his talent than would some flashy, attention-grabbing performance; he makes it clear that he knows what All Else Failed's songs need from a drummer, and he sticks to serving the song rather than trying for the spotlight. "Kinetic," though, opens with frenetic high-speed picking, which both demonstrates that All Else Failed have the ability to be complex and technical when they want to be and gives Pennie a chance to shine. However, by the end of the song, the band has locked into a driving mosh riff and Pennie follows right along with them, playing the riff instead of overplaying it. His performance here is first rate.
As is that of the entire band. "Kinetic" is followed by "Wishful Thinking", which starts out fast, chaotic, and intense, and builds toward a crescendo. As it builds, Luke Muir screams "bite your tongue" over and over. Then suddenly, at 1:40 into the song, the music stops completely, he screams "...until you choke on blood!", and BANG! The band comes back in full-force, at half the speed and twice the intensity of the first half of the song. These days, it seems like most hardcore bands require the super-slow mosh parts or the technical change-ups just to generate any sort of intensity. Not so All Else Failed--they're one of the few bands I've ever heard who can write a standard midtempo riff that is still so intense you feel like your body is going to shake apart as you listen to it. In fact, this album is chock full of such things, and that's a lot of what keeps bringing me back to it.
They've got a lot more than just that going on, though. While the first four songs are pretty standard heavy hardcore, they show a lot more range than that starting with track 5, "Waterlogged." This song starts out quiet and melodic, and builds into a full-on ballad. Based on the first four songs, it's not what you'd expect, but it works incredibly well under the circumstances. Luke Muir isn't the best vocalist in the world when it comes to actual singing, but what he lacks in talent, he makes up for with sincerity and conviction. When he pushes his voice nearly to the breaking point on the line, "I whisper, 'everything's OK,' " it's one of the most affecting (and effective) moments on the album.
From this point on, All Else Failed continue to insert melodic interludes and even entire songs that aren't the least bit hardcore into the mix, giving "This Never Happened" the feel of a unified album instead of a mere collection of songs--something a lot of hardcore albums end up being. This careful crafting of music into a flowing narrative works well with the lyrics on the album, which appear to be telling the story of a long, drawn-out breakup. Many of the moments in this story have universal familiarity--the desperate, self-deprecating apology left on an answering machine ("To Whom It May Concern"), the feeling of never saying the right thing ("Centralia"), the frustration that gives way to anger when things just don't seem to be working ("Step One: Give Up"); we've all been to these places, and All Else Failed's pounding hardcore riffs and melodic, emotional breaks are the perfect soundtrack. One song that strikes a particular chord with me is "At Twenty-Seven;" this is the sound of a person who sees the years slipping away and is having a hard time accepting that yet another opportunity to find longterm companionship has not worked out, but in the midst of all that is trying to give himself a pep talk. "Don't worry, things will only look up from here," he tells himself. "Rearrange your busy schedule of wasted time and try to fix the mess you've made." You can tell he's scared, and not all that hopeful, but he's trying.
Both the music and the story arc of the album come to a climax on the last two songs. The first of the two, "Departing Flights", is another ballad similar to "Waterlogged" earlier, though perhaps even more heart-wrenching. This song documents the moment where our hero finally surrenders to his fate. He's fought to make the relationship work, and the longer it's gone on, the more it's felt like a losing battle. Now he's finally come to the decision that it's no longer worth the struggle. "Why sacrifice happiness and stay here to wonder why two people can't get along?" he asks. He admits that he's running away by getting on a plane and going... where? It's never said, but I find myself imagining a friend's couch back in his hometown, or maybe even his parents' basement. And that's a tragic enough ending even without the final track, "After All," a 6-minute percussionless dirge played on an almost inaudible acoustic guitar. There's really nothing hardcore about this song--it's bleak enough to show up on an album by Nick Cave, or a more recent Michael Gira project. The lyrics to the song provide the album with its title, and we find that "this never happened" refers to that feeling one gets when you look around and realize that, though you're a couple of years older, you've really gained nothing, and gotten no farther than where you were when you started out. "Time has come to bury me," Muir sings as the song fades out completely, and you can almost feel your heart break along with his.
All Else Failed have survived a lot longer than the average hardcore band, and that's especially true when you consider their relative obscurity and lack of success throughout their career. They've endured in spite of everything that's come their way, and with "This Never Happened," they have reached a career high. However, one gets the feeling that this could also be their last gasp. They're not as young as they used to be, and if the somewhat joking threat on their website ("If this tour goes badly, we're getting jobs again and you won't see us again until 2008") is any indication, they don't exactly have all the time and money in the world to keep pumping into their band. They have produced the hardcore version of a Shakespearean tragedy with "This Never Happened", and it's every bit as worth your time as that allusion, however high-flown, would suggest. Now is the time to hunt this thing down, so that All Else Failed can receive the support they need to continue making music. People, do not sleep on this record.
Until recently, I was only dimly aware of My Chemical Romance. Their name had popped up from time to time over the last year in mainstream rock mags, usually when said mag was trying to tap into the groundswell that has lately occurred in the wake of Dashboard Confessional's success. Yes, once again I am talking about "emo", though with Dashboard Confessional's status as an actual practitioner of said genre being debatable at best, I tend not to expect much from mainstream rock mags where concerns getting a reliable idea of what the genre actually is. Generally, if a mainstream rock mag's article about "The Next Big Things In Emo" is the first place I hear of a band, I write them off as illegitimate; some label constructed cash-in attempt made up of musicians who were probably ripping off Creed six months earlier, nothing more. Hearing My Chemical Romance's name frequently associated with The Used, whose recent attempt at self-reinvention as "screamo" isn't fooling anyone, only weakened them even further in my eyes, and even though I'd never actually heard them, I wrote them off as lame.
I got the first hint that I might have written them off too soon when a teenage female acquaintance of mine began raving about how amazing they were a couple months ago. She and I don't see eye to eye on everything--for example, she has no idea why I love Pig Destroyer so much--but when it comes to emo and indie rock, she's never steered me wrong. In fact, she was the one who got me to admit that Maroon 5 really aren't that bad (what? They're really not!). So I couldn't help but think that anything in this style that she was into must have some merit.
That didn't stop me from wanting to preserve my initial opinion, though. By now I'd seen a video of theirs and been weirded out by it. The band jumped around and swung their guitars like they were playing brutal metalcore, and even had the black clothes, eye makeup, and dyed hair to go with it. But despite some metal-sounding guitar flourishes, the overall sound was way too polished and poppy to fit the image. My condemnation of My Chemical Romance as a label created band of poseurs was only reaffirmed. "Besides," I told my friend on the phone one night, "they're even touring with The Used now!" "Yeah, well, that new Used album is actually pretty good," my friend returned, unwilling to yield. "What?!" I cried, startled into laughter. I couldn't imagine that The Used had any merit any more than I could imagine My Chemical Romance having merit--all I could think of was their dirtbag singer and his fling with Kelly Osbourne. I couldn't help but wonder if my friend was just losing her touch where this stuff was concerned.
They got me in the end, though. My friend would still occasionally rant about how good My Chemical Romance were, but she'd given up on convincing me, and I was perfectly content never to hear them again. But then, one morning a few weeks ago, my clock-radio woke me with the beginning of a song I'd never heard before. Usually, even the best stuff I hear on the local "new rock" radio station is only mildly enjoyable, and the only reason I actually keep the dial set there is because the music they play is the most blandly tolerable offering of my local airwaves. However, this song I'd never heard before was legitimately good--so good, in fact, that I had to know what it was. I made a mental note of a standout lyric, got out of bed, and Googled it. Well, I'm sure you can all see right where this is going... the song was called "I'm Not OK (I Promise)", and it was by My Chemical Romance.
Now, I'm not generally one to hold onto a viewpoint after it's been proven false, but that said, I have a hell of a hard time admitting that I'm wrong. The only way I could reconcile my enjoyment of "I'm Not OK (I Promise)" with my previous antipathy towards My Chemical Romance was to assume that I only liked that one song by them. I downloaded it and had it burned to a CD by the time I left for work that morning, and I played it over and over again all day, but all the while I assured myself that this did not constitute changing my mind, that I was still safe in my ability to hold an unwavering opinion about this band.
I could only be sure I would stick with that opinion, though, if I avoided the inconvenient reality of the rest of their album. If I never listened to it, I would never have to find out if I actually did like the entire album. I would never have to deal with the possibility that it was only their makeup and clothes that had ever turned me off to them. I wasn't even considering this thought process on a conscious level, but it was definitely in the back of my mind, acting as a motivator. When I informed my teenage female friend of my grudging enjoyment of "I'm Not OK", she of course encouraged me to download the entire album and check it out. Of course, it took a week of her nagging me about it before I actually did, and then it took another week for me to get around to listening to it. When I did, I was horrified to find that my worst fears were realized. Yes, despite months of skepticism and apprehension, I have to admit that "Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge" by My Chemical Romance is a really good album.
I'm not sure I would have figured this out right away, or even at all, if it weren't for my accidental, unprejudiced enjoyment of "I'm Not OK." As it turns out, the video I had seen, the one that had bothered me so badly, had been for that very same song. I don't know exactly why I couldn't stand the song then, but liked it a lot when I heard it on the radio, but I have a theory. By the time I saw the video, I had already read a decent amount of press concerning My Chemical Romance, and the relative inability of that press to place them into their proper context had prepared me for something quite different than what I got from them. They didn't deliver what I'd been prepared to expect, so I initially perceived their music as failing at what it attempted to do. However, the problem wasn't with the music at all, but with my expectations. All music really needs to do at any time in order to be successful is to be good, and whether or not it fits into the limits of any particular genre is beside the point. In fact, this is a primary lesson that needs to be learned if one is ever going to be able to evaluate music honestly, but I should probably leave it at that, because if I take this tangent any farther I fear I shall never return.
My Chemical Romance's "Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge" differs considerably from what I was led to expect; it is both more and less emo and more and less metal than I expected. I don't know how much sense that statement makes even to me, let alone to anyone who isn't inside my head, so rather than continue evaluating this album in comparison to anything anyone else has said, I'll just go ahead and tackle it in terms of what it is.
To begin with, "I'm Not OK" is not too atypical of emo as it stands in the year 2005. It isn't doing anything no one's ever heard before, but it has great lyrics, catchy riffs, and a solid song structure, and that's enough to make it stand out. There are occasional hints, though, of the more interesting and unusual aspects of My Chemical Romance's music. The twin-guitar harmony solo that shows up out of nowhere after the second chorus is straight out of the Iron Maiden songbook; no matter how conventionally emo the bulk of My Chemical Romance's sound is, it's obvious that in their past somewhere lurks a healthy dose of 80s metal. Meanwhile, vocalist Gerard Way's melodramatic ranting as the band builds to the song's climax seems descended far less from any popular music tropes than it does from the conventions of musical theater. One can't help but imagine him in a previous life as a major drama geek--the kind of guy who missed his senior prom because he had to rehearse for an upcoming starring role in his school's production of "West Side Story."
Then again, maybe "Guys and Dolls" is a more appropriate reference. "You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison" starts out sounding like something a reincarnated Frank Sinatra would sing in some 21st century update of that particular classic. A piano backs up a jaunty guitar line as the rhythm section lays down a swinging backbeat and the song gradually builds into full-on emocore while never losing the jazzy swing. Eventually, the guitarists lay down duelling solos that sound like something off a prime era Queen record before the song ends in an all-too-brief pounding moshcore crescendo.
The always-dormant metal influence doesn't jump to the fore and take over entire songs nearly as often, but the beginning of "To The End" is one of the more overtly metal moments here. As Gerard Way gasps out the opening verse as if sharing a particularly juicy piece of gossip, the guitarists pick out impressive single-note runs that are sometimes matching and sometimes in harmony with each other. The song gets heavier as it goes along, but the verses continue to be a showcase for the chops of both guitarists, who were obviously exposed to a lot more than the standard emo influences when they were developing their styles.
In the end, this is the main ingredient that makes My Chemical Romance's music so enjoyable to listen to: the talent of the musicians. Rather than just being a band of emo kids, My Chemical Romance are musicians who happen to be playing in an emo style right now. Their ability to look beyond genre when creating their songs frees them up to use concepts and ideas that they've taken from other styles of music and helps them keep their songs fresh, original, and exciting. One listen to "Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge" makes this obvious: "Helena" and "The Jetset Life Is Gonna Kill You" are uptempo, melodic anthems in the tradition of "I'm Not OK (I Promise)", but there's a lot more than that here. "Thank You For the Venom" combines chunky metal riffs with a catchy melodic chorus, while "Hang Em High" mixes more of that melodramatic theater feel with more conventional emo riffs and metallic solos, and "The Ghost of You" layers heartfelt vocals over bombastic yet powerful guitar riffs to become the album's centerpiece and emotional heart. One might be suspicious that the unusual ingredients in My Chemical Romance's sound would cause them to lose focus and dilute the power of their songs, but if anything, the opposite is what occurs. The uniqueness of "Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge" differentiates My Chemical Romance from the many other bands working in the same style right now, and helps them rise to the top of the emo heap. No matter what misgivings their press might cause, this is not an album to be missed.
The soundtrack to saying goodbye.
These first days after a breakup are always the hardest. Today is a day off for me, and when I wake up this morning I can't see a single goddamn reason to get out of bed. At least in bed, I can curl up in the blankets and feel some sort of enveloping warmth, feel like I'm held and surrounded by something. Getting up to face the cold, unforgiving morning has no appeal--what's the point? Life is feeling cold and unforgiving enough from right here in bed. Only weeks before, there was someone there with me, and now I have to face the fact that, barring some miracle, she'll never be here again.
Maybe I'll just sleep all day.
Motion City Soundtrack's debut album, "I Am The Movie," came out of nowhere for me only a week or so ago and immediately made itself the prime candidate for breakup album of the year. It wasn't what I'd expected--I'd heard their song "The Future Freaks Me Out" over last summer and enjoyed it, but thought of them as more of a silly fun pop band than anything that could ever have any real emotional impact upon me. Turns out that "The Future Freaks Me Out" is not but so typical of the album--there's a real bittersweet quality to a lot of the songs, which combine minor chord melodies and heartfelt vocals with anthemic choruses and lyrics that often hit close to home. The overall tone of the album is a wistful longing for something that's past, that's gone now. They were happy times, and they're happy memories, but it hurts to realize that those times are gone, as well as the relationships that were a big part of making them so great. This is the sound of someone trying to gather himself back together and move on, no matter how hard it is.
OK, I'll give you that that narrative fits certain songs on the album a lot better than others, and that there's a great deal of my own feelings superimposed on the rather vague structure actually provided by the songs here. So sue me. The point is, it's getting me through. The lyrics have enough humor at times to make me smile even when things aren't going well, and the melodies lift my heart even when the words are at their saddest. What actually blows my mind the most is that these guys make extensive use of that cheesy 80s keyboard/synth sound--you know the one: where every note you press on the keyboard is just a different variation on the sound "eeeeee" (unless it's a low note, at which point you get more of an "oooo"). Keyboard sounds like this are most identified these days with The Cars, or maybe Weezer, and are probably 80% of the reason I hate every record I've ever heard by Reggie and the Full Effect. But here, it works. It's tasteful, never overdone and never too high in the mix, and that's part of it, but another part of it is just that Motion City Soundtrack's music combines well with the sound. It fits their riffs really well. The best song here is probably the final one, "A-OK." It's got the best chorus on the album, and does a great job of leaving you on a hopeful note, despite all the inherent sadness of the lyrics. "Someday you'll understand that everything is A-OK," they sing. I hope I do.
On the plane back from London, I try to sleep, but I can't. I'm too distraught, too emotionally fucked up... and I can't figure out how to recline the seat. So I doze a bit due to the motion sickness medicine, and I choke down some of the airline food, and I turn the same tape over and over in my walkman the whole way home. There's this beautiful blond girl sitting next to me, and when I do briefly talk to her, all I can talk about is how upset I am that things didn't go very well during my reunion with my long-distance girlfriend. She is empathetic, telling me stories of her own London trip to see a former boyfriend who never wanted to commit, and still doesn't. It was hard, she says, because she still has feelings for him, but it's just not the same as it was before he left. I try in my head to pretend that this doesn't sound uncomfortably familiar.
Fall Out Boy are a bunch of former hardcore kids (including an ex-member of Race Traitor, of all bands) who play upbeat, melodic punk tunes with incredibly depressing lyrics. Singing along with lines like, "Let's play this game called 'when you catch fire, I wouldn't piss to put you out'" can be a bit disconcerting, but in the end it fits--this isn't the kind of record you find yourself digging out when everything's going wonderfully. This is definitely an emo record.
You know, I used to really hate pop-punk. To me, the genre name immediately called forth images of bands on Fat Wreck Chords who sang about coffee and not wanting to take showers, did too many joke covers of old 70s MOR hits, and put out millions of albums that all sounded exactly the same. I liked The Descendents, but it seemed like their followers completely missed the point about what had made that band so great in the first place. However, somewhere along the line, things changed. I started to like pop-punk again, and I can't help but think that the transition for me was about the same point when everyone started to call the new pop-punk bands "emo". I fought this categorization for as long as possible--to me, "emo" was something completely different. It was more like the hardcore bands I'd been into in the early-to-mid-90s who started playing longer and slower songs but still screamed and pounded their instruments, but now also tended to collapse onto the stage in tears at the end of sets (and had lyrics that reflected the fact that they were likely to do so). Then there came a point when I realized--hey, even when I was in the thick of that music scene, I'd resisted the term "emo". It always seemed like an insult, so why worry if it was applied to a different genre now than before? In fact, why fear the term "emo" at all?
And so, for the past year or so, I haven't been at all afraid to admit that I really enjoy that hideous beast known as "emo", no matter how big it gets. When Taking Back Sunday's second album debuted at number 3 on the Billboard charts, I was proud to have contributed to that statistic. And when I saw a Fall Out Boy video on Fuse that I enjoyed, I went right out and bought the album.
"Take This To Your Grave" is not exactly the smartest thing to listen to when flying back from an international reunion with a lover that has gone badly, especially with the future of that love in doubt. What can I say? Perhaps I am a masochist. All I know is that it was all I could stand to hear. Underneath the "emo" categorization, this is without a doubt a pop-punk record. However, it's not anything like NOFX and Rancid. Perhaps the difference here is that these guys are combining hardcore influences with radio pop hooks and a definite historical awareness of "emo" in all its permutations, because unlike all of those old Fat Wreck Chords bands, this record doesn't start to get boring at any point. Singer Patrick Stump sounds like Dave Smalley during his tenure with Down By Law at some points, while crooning like Justin Timberlake at others. At times the guitarists use undistorted or even acoustic hooks to add melodic textures, but they are also gifted with the ability to make occasional judicious use of a mosh riff. Fall Out Boy are never any one thing in particular, but they always create an irresistible combination. And then to layer it with lyrics like, "I know I should be home--all the colors of the street signs just remind me of the pickup truck in front of your neighbor's house..." Well, I didn't cry in front of that girl on the plane, but it was a near thing. A very near thing.
For the last couple of days before I flew to London, I was at my parents' house. It was Christmas time, and in addition to all the excitement around that, I was supposed to be excited to be flying to another country. My parents were encouraging me to see as much of the place as possible, to make sure I did touristy stuff since I'd never been there before and who knew when I would be again. I barely heard them--I was so nervous I felt like I was going to throw up every other minute. She and I had barely spoken all week, and when we had, she sounded distant. I wanted to believe that seeing her would make it all better, but I couldn't help but sense impending doom.
I doubt I ever would have bothered checking out Race The Sun's first full-length, "The Rest of Our Lives Is Tonight" (the title of which is grammatically correct, though I wasn't sure at first), if it weren't for the fact that I've known most of the band since they were still in high school. Back when my band was still going strong, they were kids from the suburbs that came to all the shows, some of whom were in bands of their own that would play shows with us. That definitely informs some of my response to their album--for example, Daniel's rather high singing voice would be an interesting feature of their sound to anyone, but my specific reaction is to think about how weird it is, because his speaking voice is lower than mine. But really, this is not one of those cases where you listen because it's "my friend's band", and deep inside know that if you didn't know the guys in the band you wouldn't really dig the music nearly as much. No, this is just a great album.
Race The Sun, it must be admitted, are taking quite a bit of what they're doing from early Saves The Day. The fact that the band names are somewhat similar is not nearly as much of a coincidence as it could be. That said, though, Saves The Day have gone a long way from the sort of thing they were doing on "Can't Slow Down" (which makes sense considering that everyone on that album except the singer has since left the band), and Race The Sun have themselves gone far enough from it to make it their own, taking what Saves The Day started with and going in a different direction than the one in which they've since progressed. "The Rest of Our Lives Is Tonight" is chock full of poppy hooks and awesome vocal melodies, and once again the hardcore background of the band members shines through in their ability to utilize palm-muted chords and mosh parts, even the occasional scream, to create heaviness when it's necessary. Most of the time, though, the band lays down driving, uptempo melodic riffs for Daniel to smear his voice all over. It's truly a singular and dynamic instrument he's gifted with--where a lot of "emo" (pop-punk?) singers are left with only a limited range, due to the kind of high-end note progressions that are most popular in that genre, Daniel still has tons of room to sing all around the main riffs. The kind of high notes he can hit are perhaps unequaled in all of the emo records I've heard. For example, on the chorus to "Paperweights and Coffee Stains", he starts the vocal part at a high point, and by the second line has hit a stratospherically high range. And instead of being cheesy--as it could have, in less capable hands--it has the effect of lifting your spirits along with his voice, bringing you up out of whatever doldrums you may be in and making everything seem like it just might turn out fine. This record isn't like the last two I've discussed, with the lyrics that keep me uncomfortably aware of just how rough life is right now. This is a record to use as a pick-me-up, a record to play when you're driving down the road on a sunny day and trying to forget all of your troubles. It will help.
I feel like I might, by being vague, be doing her a disservice here. I'm uncomfortably aware of the fact that I'm engaging in what I've always found to be the lot of the creative artist--airing one's dirty emotional laundry in the most public of ways. I've never been one to be in favor of artistic obfuscation, either. I just go ahead and say what I'm thinking, whatever that may be at that moment, and let the chips fall where they may. I'm trying to work through my demons, and this is what seems to work best for me. However, I do still love her, despite all of the bad things that have gone down, and despite all of the perfectly valid reasons we had for breaking up. I may seem like a victim from the bits I've given you here, but the truth is far more complicated. The breakup was mutual--we both had our reasons for feeling like it wasn't working. Then again, we also were both still very much in love with each other. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if she's also been having trouble getting up in the morning, and also finding herself crying at odd moments. We tried our hardest, but it just doesn't seem like it would work right now, no matter what we did. The really hard thing for me is that I almost don't want to get over it--I feel like there's a very good chance that she and I could have a healthy relationship at some further point down the line, when both of us have matured some. I feel sure that some remnant of feelings that we've felt over the time we were together will last forever in our hearts. If it comes down to it, and it's not in the cards for us ever to be anything more than friends, then I hope we can at least be friends, very good ones. But of course, right now I still hold out hope that things will change as we get older, and that we will find ourselves together again. Because I love her, and I know she loves me too.
I almost spent $6 on a Taking Back Sunday 7 inch single the other day. The B-side was a non-LP track, but when I listened to it, it was a schmaltzy piano ballad that I just couldn't see myself ever listening to. That just left the A-side, "A Decade Under the Influence," which I already have on my copy of "Where You Want To Be." I still considered it, but ultimately felt like it would be a waste of money, no matter how cool I would find it as an artifact. It's one of the best songs of last year, but I think I'll always associate it the most with my most recent ill-starred love affair. I've already discussed it in detail elsewhere, but it bears mentioning just how much I'm still seeing myself and my struggles with my current situation in that song, especially that drawn-out, mournful/painful ending. It's almost like that one Smiths song, "That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore." It's too close to home, it's too near the bone, and I just can't separate from it enough to be objective. At this point I'm barely hanging on.
I've got it bad.
I've got it bad.
I've got it bad...
I know that this will get better in time. "This too shall pass," my mother always used to say. But right now, it almost feels better to just sit here, play these records over and over, and hold onto this feeling, for better or for worse. I may feel terrible, but at least I know I can feel something. At least I know that I can still love.