Emotional Rescue

Sad Emo-Punk Boys Pull on Strings, Unravel Sweaters, Shiver ’Til Spring

I'd give Paris, Texas and even better labelmates Sunday's Best props for their pop corniness, except alt.radio sap is no longer so sweet; it somehow slipped into a knot. The Nirvana-Green Day-Hanson-'N Sync string makes sense; "Bye Bye Bye" is pop-punk like "Longview." But when major labels slashed rosters and emo spotted its shadow—going back underground with Cobain—psychodrama got airplay, as always. Big scary DMX and Limp Bizkit were released mad from boys-club kennels and represent (though only one of 'em sucks—guess who?) anger turned outward. Blink 182 and the Deftones get up on your grille, but with a half-baked inward-anger emo influence (listen to Blink's nonhits, really). "You are so Sisyphus—just pushing on your boulder," Sunday's Best man Edward Reyes complains.

Sunny Day Real Estate would prefer, characteristically, to let The Rising Tide (Time Bomb) do the heavy lifting. Sunny Day's Siamese wet dream is "One"; the threesome were emo's great pasty-white hopes (circa '94) precisely because they sounded more alt. than anything. Which means the Big Rock tunes here rule, and all else mostly rots. Boston's Karate know something about rot: "Violence is so slow, and the patience will do us in." But later: "Your patience is a simple way to share with me your time." Unsolved (Southern) investigates the innocuous details of alienation and the sublimation of the pretty-prosaic into melancholy ("I can tell by the way the rain hits the glass that it wants to be cold. It wants to be snow.") Geoff Farina dabs and dribbles his jazz chords judiciously enough that the Fender-four-string-and-stripped-down-tub-set hopscotch is subtly colored by watercolor waterworks. "Sever" is as much Al Green as Miles (who's later mentioned), full of r&b fire and this-is-the-dance-floor-not-killing-floor hope for, at least, getting back together.

Emo's experimental essence links Karate's meditations with Joan of Arc's hush; The Gap (Jade Tree), one logically assumes, is supposed to be between what's heard and what can't be. But JOA's (guitarist and guru Tim Kinsellas's, really) slogan's always been "Everybody in Irony!"—as in the ads for their latest disc's dept. store namesake (visually copied on the cover). "John Cassavetes, Assata Shakur, and Guy Debord Walk Into a Bar . . . " is its own song's punch line. But the real jest is that some of the pro-tooled-on, spliced-and-diced mope-folk stumbles onto beauty, shards of snowflake crystals from rain. At the Drive-In's Cedric Bixler responds: "The guillotine laughs again." He's not kidding—ATDI are unintentionally funny types. Relationship of Command (Grand Royal) delineates harmful hierarchy even as the El Paso, Texas, fivesome gets top billing from no less than hip-to-be-square Rolling Stone—after all, nowadays an angry veneer equals hard-rock radio polish. Buzzsaw-through-corrugated-steel guitars draw and quarter song structures, jumpy drums smash like boulders through plate glass, and Bixler exudes something like PCP-induced paranoia before begging to be forgiven, buzzsaws turning into scalpels, rhythmic tides buoying the rock in his stomach. And they've got two curly 'fros for Guy Picciotto's straight-with-split-ends one.

Cuddling furry kittens makes Paris, Texas happy
photo: Polyvinyl
Cuddling furry kittens makes Paris, Texas happy

The Faint, who also have nice hair, pick up ladies in the Blank-Wave Arcade (Saddle Creek—outta Omaha); Richard Hell, new wave, and retro-futuristic fun houses are kissing cousins here. "Sex Is Personal," "Worked Up So Sexual," and "Casual Sex" ("Is it irrational? Yes!") launch obscene bass into twin-synth sleaze into drunk-goggle drum machinery, like Octant meets Pulp meets Depeche Mode via "The Bad Touch." Insincere? Ozzy Osbourne's elucidation of representation applies equally to all characters who get personal (if not sexual): "It's just a theatrical role I enjoy, giving people enjoyment." But, like Ozzy, emo often asks one to read between blurred lines. Witness the Faint's fellow Nebraskans Cursive's embarrassing press release for Domestica (Saddle Creek), which giddily recounts lead calligrapher Tim Kasher's divorce in terms of a song-fulfilling prophesy (also probably why I spied a rusted tour van with HC stickers and one that said "Quit Crying emo QUEER"). But what great songs! More traditional than most of their above-named contemporaries, Cursive observe the Sabbath in late Jawbreaker but mike tiny voices set against one another in rumbles, squeals, and splashes, tripping out of unison. And Kasher is not divorced from the fabricated truths of the subgenre or its critics. "Write some sad song about me," he sasses, the way his ex-wife must've (oops). "Get on that cross, that's all you're good for."

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