Wednesday, October 14, 2009

#80. Jeromes Dream - Seeing Means More Than Safety (Old Glory, 2000) / Ampere - All Our Tomorrows End Today (Ebullition, 2004)

After the praise I lavished on a pair of the more epic-leaning emo releases it only makes sense to continue on with the opposite end of that spectrum. What's been dubbed 'emo-violence' - really just a fancy way of saying 'bands that sound like Orchid' - seems to be all about compressing the rage and ferocity of the most hardcore leaning emo outfits from the first wave into as short a time as possible while still giving the songs a sense of being actual songs as opposed to simply being shards that might leave you feeling a bit shortchanged. Of course that last part's only true for the best of the best in the genre; a lot of this stuff does just feel like shards, little vignettes that leave me longing for something approaching structure. Any number of bands that came in the wake of Orchid could manage the catharsis-and-nothing-but aesthetic, the 'violence' half of emo-violence if you will, but few could manage to make it feel like a series of actual songs that thrived on brevity as opposed to brevity being the end in and of itself. Looked at another way, the best bands are the ones who look at the unofficial time constraints as a challenge as opposed to being a mere fact of the game.

No band exemplifies the challenge side of that comparison better than Ampere. Listening to All Our Tomorrows End Today takes all of 11 minutes, but in that time the quartet throw so many quick-change riffs, contrasting moods and forceful lyrics into that short period that it feels more satisfying than 90% of the full length albums from this decade. Just look at how a song like "And Now We Rise and We Are Everywhere" takes 31 seconds to come and go while still getting at least three logically flowing instrumental movements into the mix or how "Woodlawn" doesn't hit two minutes but feels like an epic all the same. The quartet tackles this type of music with an insane level of skill, but they don't rely on that alone to make the songs work. It's combined with the sort of raw emotion that few bands ever manage to get right; passionate but not too far over the top, personal but not self-pitying,played ferociously but in a controlled way. They represent the rare occasion where a set of individuals just works perfectly together, matching each other at every turn with a level of cohesion few bands manage.

That said, the real star here is vocalist Stephen Pierce. As great as the other three members are - drummer Andy Skelly in particular stands out as an unheralded talent - Pierce's vocals are the glue here. All the best moments are on him specifically, the calm conclusion of "Past Imperfect" ('We knew that there was no future, that was our greatest freedom'), the intense as fuck 'OPEN OPEN OPEN YOUR EYES' from "Woodlawn", and his style isn't as one-note as many other emo vocalists. The band's interplay is a strong foundation to the point where it would take an exceptionally horrible vocalist to come close to ruining the album, but Pierce's dedication here is striking; he could easily phone it in and not mar the classic that the album should be but he throws himself into it with as much passion as he can. It's one of those instances where the vocals are that X-factor that makes an album stand out to a greater degree.

Of course if you're talking vocalist as X-factor, Jerome's Dream are probably an even more relevent example. The style that vocalist Jeff Smith employed early in the band's short career consisted of not using a microphone and shouting so hard to be heard over the rest of the band that he absolutely killed his voice within a few years. That's the way it is on their 2000 EP Seeing Means More Than Safety; Smith's voice sounds like it's already halfway dead at points and the words are pretty much indecipherable, only coming through as faint squawks in the background as the band rocks out. It's an interesting way to go about it for sure, and if the trio weren't so singular outside of that it would definitely make them stand out, but the more I listen to this the more I think it's a bit gimmicky. The album is still solid, not gonna deny that, but the vocals are a distraction quite a bit of the time, to me at least.

Luckily there's plenty of exceelent musical ideas floating around in here t omake up for that minor annoyance. The band aren't as polished and concise as Ampere, really no band is, but they still do a good job of building 1-minute songs with as much variety and movement as some full length albums. If anything the lack of polish combined with the nearly undiscernable vocals make the music itself seem that much more powerful, so even if the results aren't as amazing as those exhibited by Ampere the band are still at the apex of the emo-violence scene. I may seem to have more reservations about Seeing Means More Than Safety than I do other albums on the list, but the fact is that I do like the damn thing a lot, but hte things I like about it just don't lend themselves to description all that well. It's powerful, well played and concise as you'd expect, and despite my misgivings about the vocals Smith's lyrics have the same qualities once you decipher them, basically all the things I love about this type of music albeit without the additional levels of amazing that Ampere would bring to the table. I kinda regret pairing these two up now.

Coming up tomorrow: Beefheart's heirs?

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