Posts Tagged ‘Music’

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Top 20 songs of a sinister cult

April 27, 2012

Is “emo” a dirty word? The Daily Mail thinks it is. Well, it thinks it is a “sinister cult”. I do not portray the stereotypical characteristics of an emo (often) yet whenever I am called one, it is usually in a derogatory manner. Emos can often be sidelined as the pathetic, self-indulgent, effeminate dandies who detach themselves from the real world and instead bury their minds in a romanticised, death-obsessesed heartbreak coma. This isn’t really fair. I just like music with a bit of emotion in it. 

Anyway, this is not meant to be a dissection and dialectic on emo, well, sort of, no, this is a vague response to Is Thing On?’s top 100 emo songs. I think the author alextb3 probably knows his emo, screamo, post hardcore etc much better than I do but I thought I’d just put down what I consider my top 10 20 emo songs. While the aforementioned 100 list is thorough and varied and diverse and all the rest, mine is just going to be a big cryfest with lashing of fringes, screams and eyeliner. So, here goes. Let me know just how many genre “mistakes” I make and why I am wrong…

20. Panic! At The Disco – Time To Dance

I don’t think there could have been a list without Panic!. Their first album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, was a perfectly-executed portrait of modern emo. Agile and preposterously pretentious lyrics coined with an overuse of some sort of piano/organ imitator made for the perfect soundtrack for the revival of skinny jeans. They also represent the time when the Mail et al turned on emo – the poor chaps had bottles thrown at them when they played Reading in 2006. Bloody southerners. 

19. Thursday – Understanding In A Car Crash

Thursday seem to have a fascination with collisions and crashes. I can think of numerous songs across their various albums which involve some sort of smash… and I like it. There is little emotional subtlety here but there is a crap-load of punches to the throat. The chaos in the crash, the way nothing means anything when it is out of your control, the similarities between the physical and emotional damage, it all makes for a good car crash song. 

18. Bayside – They Looked Like Strong Hands

This song is in here because Bayside’s acoustic album is lovely – just how an acoustic punk-emo album should sound. This particular song is in here because it’s all about misinterpreting your own strength then buckling under the pressure of it all. If that’s not emo, I don’t know what is. 

17. Silverstein – My Heroine

This from my days as a teenage mosher. Silverstein still blend heavy rock (metal?) with the occasionaly delicate riff or vocals. My Heroine demonstrates this with a few lovely lines about drugs beginning to fade what goes on under the covers (another favourite emo topic). Yes, the shouting can be a bit lame but the passion is there and that’s what it’s important. AND, this bloke is singing somebody up, which is nice. See, it’s not all a big downer. 

16. Saves The Day – At Your Funeral

A friend once asked me how I could listen to this as it was so depressing: “He’s singing about drowning?!” What he could not comprehend was it was the strength of the feeling in a song which made  it. I am always a fan of really morbid, horrible things being sung in a fairly nonchalant way and this song ticks that box. Woo. 

15. O Brother – Oh Charitable Thief

A big, brooding nine-minuter with barely-audible lyrics and dark, threatening guitars. Nice.

14. Dashboard Confessional – The End Of An Anchor

I thought Dashboard Confessional deserved a mention somewhere in here as well. They represent that beautiful transition between pop and emo. This places it to the slightly more pathetic end of the emo spectrum but this offering and pain and self-guilt is enough to turn those frowns upside down and then the right way up again. He’s so grateful for another chance but he’s willing to sacrifice it because he’s so sad. That’s sad.

13. Bright Eyes – Landlocked Blues

He’s blue and he’s landlocked. Poor Conor. You have to feel for him. He doesn’t even know where he’s walking THEN some kid attacks him with a stick. It’s all going Pete Tong for him. Then he tries to do the sex dance with some girl and the war on tv keeps interrupting. Absolute nightmare. 

12. Meet Me In St Louis – I Am Champagne, You Are Shit

I reckon this song could kill you. If you were feeling particularly vulnerable and this hit you at just right the time and at the right volume, BOOM. DEAD. It is a bloomin’ powerful song, lyrically and instrumentally. And it’s about love. That’s nice. “And through your tangled hair, your eyelids are dancing. Pretending not to care, I’m guessing what you’re dreaming.”

11. Cursive – Dorothy At Forty

Now for the middle-of-the-road dream shattering part of the tour. So, you want a nice house, good car, 2.4 children and a decent job. Well, Cursive are going to blow your world wide open. And Dorothy’s too. I know this song and the big Cursive dream gun mainly targets Americans but I still love the imagery. “Dreams are all you have… dreamers never live, only dream of it.”

IT’S ONLY THE BLOODY TOP 10

10. Mewithoutyou – O, Porcupine

Spoken word music shouldn’t real be anyone’s bag, especially if religion, nature and animals are strong components of that spoken word. But MeWithoutYou make it work. And their music is awesome given their name is a bit rubbish. I particularly like the line in this song: “O Porcupine, high in the tree, your eyes to mine: ‘You’d be well inclined not to mess with me.'” The religious motivation behind many of their lyrics actually give the songs a lot more oomph despite me not being at all religious. It’s all about the problem/solution ratio within emo. 

9. Death Cab For Cutie – What Sarah Said

We’re getting serious now. What Sarah Said might not be the first Death Cab song which springs to mind when you think of their emotional power and when you listen to the lyrics – the matter-of-fact reenactment of a hospital waiting room as a loved one clings to life – it will bring you to tears. The rolling piano which repeats throughout gives the song an eery sense of safety and optimism but that is dashed when Ben Gibbard sings “Love is watching someone die”.

8. Kevin Devine – Ballgame

K Dev normally toes the line of folk and rock occasionally pouring enough pain into his lyrics for me to be able to class it as emo. This song here is our political emo song for the list. Kevin is lamenting the war, lamenting his passive protest and lonely alcoholism. Ballgame is a perfect song in its original state but if you click the link ^^^ you will see it has been made even more perfect in Kevin’s most recent tour when he encored with an extended version. “She took the kid by the arm and said you piss away the things you love. We can fix ourselves up kids and we can learn how to love.”

7. Hawthorne Heights – Ohio Is For Lovers

“And I can’t make it on my own.
Because my heart is in Ohio.
So cut my wrists and black my eyes.
So I can fall asleep tonight, or die.
Because you kill me.
You know you do, you kill me well.
You like it too, and I can tell.”

‘Nuff said.

6. My Chemical Romance – Demolition Lovers

The Godfathers of modern emo. The band closest to its demise and ridicule. Yet the band whose first  (and second) album were excellent examples of the ferocity and imagery possible in noughties emo. Demoliton Lovers, the last song off their debut album, captures the destructive magnigifince in their vampire-tinged material. They were doing so well until The Black Parade came along and Gerard got a bit too big for his little emo booties. Still, I think it deserves to be this high up.

5. Alkaline Trio – I Lied My Face Off

I LIED MY FACE OFF WHEN I SAID THAT I WOULD BE OK. The problem with Alkaline Trio is they came to prominence after Stupid Kid and nobody thought to look beyond that. Their first one,two,three,four albums are excellent early goth punk – that said, From Here To Infirmary is a bloody good album too. Some of the self-loathing and abuse in those early albums is truly heart-breaking and I think this song is exemplary of that. They didn’t piss around, they moaned and whined and they did it very well.

4. Jimmy Eat World – Just Watch The Fireworks

Jimmy Eat World are often hailed – alongside Sunny Day Real Estate and some other band – as bringers of the emo music. Back then it was all about being a bit soppy and having some twinkly guitars as opposed to the black, black, black, death cries. This song from their epic Clarity album is just about the most beautiful thing they have done. Even the song title gives me the chills. Don’t worry about the world, baby, and the other thing and whether we might have left the oven on, just watch the fireworks. God, yes.

3. Taking Back Sunday – …Slowdance On The Inside

TBS may not deserve the number three slot but again, like My Chemical Romance, they represent the modern whiny emo I have come to love. Though this song is mainly at number three because I like the name and the line “This glass house is burning down.” Glass houses can’t burn down. Silly emos.

2. Brand New – Me vs Maradona vs Elvis

Aren’t Brand New just the best damn band out there? They have songs which are more likely to make you cry but I would hesitate before calling them emo because their music has progressed so far over four albums. But I need to put one of their songs in and this high up too, so opted for Jesse’s “if you let me have my way I swear I’ll tear you apart” and “I almost feel sorry for what I’m going to do”. This self examination is such a strong essence of emo, arguably because one of the greatest indulgences one can allow themselves is to moan about yourself and why you do what you do. Jesse and the gang do this brilliantly. I’m excited and scared in equal measure for their next album.

1. Manchester Orchestra – I Can Feel A Hot One

On first listen, or the second and probably third, you might not think of this as emo. And detached from the band entirely this probably isn’t. But I dare you to listen to this song and not let it bring you to choking sobs. The notes already sound like tears. Andy Hull’s voice seems to teeter on the brink of cracking throughout. The soaring chords later on. The subject of the song breaking down. God, it’s all there. I know it’s cheesy but I also love the line: “I prayed to what I thought were angels, ended up being ambulances.” So, yes, this is the top emo song of my spurious list.

Disclaimer: The basis for picking these songs has nothing really to do with emo though it might do. The  criteria also changed every half hour over a 48 hour-or-so period. 

I also found an old article I wrote about emo for a York Uni magazine – it’s page 45 or so here.

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Kevin Devine – Splitting up Christmas

December 14, 2009

The combination of pride and modesty that exudes from Kevin Devine as he talks about his music is incredibly endearing. He is on the third date of the first leg of his Big Scary Monsters Holiday Tour promoting his new album, Brother’s Blood. There is not a particularly festive mood in the air but one of a relaxed, close-knit tour driven by the desire to have fun and give the fans a treat.

Kevin recognises with a smile that there has been an incremental increase in his popularity over in the UK. Big Scary Monsters, an Oxford based label, have given him the chance to have a British base as opposed to the previous occasions where he just “came over because fans invited him.” As he speaks of the ‘kids’ that come out to his shows a paternal pride can be seen on his bearded face.

“The last year I’ve watched it get bigger with everything i’ve done. It’s been the most successful year in terms of establishing myself in the UK.” Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band, or Kevin Devine, in any other variation, has definitely got a footing in Britain now. Tours and friendships with Brand New and Manchester Orchestra has increased his profile greatly. When asked what he puts it down to he is obviously very proud of his work and success, yet modest, attaching a caveat to any statement that may be perceived as selling himself.

He fills the minutes assessing himself and explaining his musical progression. He is very keen to explain himself, as someone with such a beautiful product as ‘Brother’s Blood’ should be. “It’s maybe the best record i’ve made. People are responding to it internationally in a way they never had before, but also playing 300 shows…it’s a case of ‘if you build it, they will come.’”

Despite this success Kevin speaks excitedly about the prospect of 30-date tour with just a car as his transport. Thankfully for all the venues, this mean they will be witness to a brilliant acoustic set. He feels ‘Brother’s Blood’ is record that most combines energy and low-fi grit with a professional well-rounded sound. Because all the music is written with such passion and commitment, even when it is just Kevin and his guitar there is no conviction or emotion lost. This is a case of less is more.

“When it is just me it is to present something that isn’t just standard finger picking talking about the sad weather or lost love, but doing it in a way that has some ‘teeth’ to it.” If you strip Kevin’s sound down, you see the raw aspects of his work. He sings the praises of early ‘Make The Clocks Move’ for its primal nature and notes that, although the studio is a somewhat sterile environment, he is still singing his songs which he wrote and loves, and consequently, nothing can be removed from the music.

Though success is now within reach and he has been touring religiously for the past year or so, it seems like it was originally slow to take hold for him. He responds to questions about the history of his music with an air of nostalgia, recalling for himself how it all started – delivering a comprehensive story and how and why he got where is today. The sense of enjoyment and pleasure is visible. He toured haphazardly through his first three records and did not quit his day job until going into Put Your Ghost To Rest. He humbly suggests that he does not know if there will not be day when he has to go back to it.

Any barriers between singer and fan seem to fall as his modesty leads him to discuss how his live shows have developed his voice over the past years. Though he has always had the voice to hit the notes, his confidence has not always allowed him. He tells how he was told not to “do that goat thing” and shake his voice when recording. His recent success and the massive respect he derives from crowds means this now is a thing of the past.

This is obvious when he takes the stage. When playing live, Kevin tries and succeeds in bringing “the spontaneity of jazz and the energy of punk to our folk rock pop songs.” His diverse musical background – hardcore, Dylan, his Mum’s “hippy music”, his Dad’s big band – lends an unique sound to his acoustic teeth.

The crowd sit on the floor – respectful. Kevin Devine displays why he is the one of the special artists to be playing music today. His politicised acoustic, folk, rock, pop and desire to maintain a close relationship with music results in a success that can only grow. Mid-set, as he closes a reprise of ‘Cotton Crush’, he breaks for applause but everyone is too stunned to move. He accepts this response inwardly and begins the next song.