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The word “Emo” has been overused for many years now, and , in fact, in many circles, has become a pejorative term for a goth-lite teenager with eyeliner, or some equally unattractive image. Long ago, in the mid 1990s, it emerged as shorthand for “emotional hardcore.” When the term “emo” was first coined, this type music was much less mainstream, the bands were not universally accepted or treated as commercially viable yet, and the listeners were a small, more tight-knit group. The bands were generally referred to as “pop punk” or “punk hardcore,” delivering a slight edge over standard punk, and in most cases, a dose of melody through the distortion.
From this scene, many bands grew, most notably in my mind: Gorilla Biscuits, Fugazi, Quicksand, Sunny Day Real Estate, and many others. Also a defining moment in emo history was the release of the commercial flop “Pinkerton,” Weezer’s 1995 masterpiece, which is now often considered the band’s best release. Although once very popular in this scene, one band that is largely forgotten is “Sense Field.” From California, former members of Reason to Believe got together and created several demos before releasing the eponymous Sense Field. 1994 welcomed the beautiful Killed for Less, which is a great album: fantastic music, but in contrast, still maturing lyrically. Then, shortly thereafter, Sense Field delivered Building. Building is an amazing album, full of energy, fun, kicking beat, and melody. The unique voice of lead singer Jon Bunch (who later fronted Further Seems Forever) is especially well suited for this type of music, which captures the 90s Gen-X angst that had yet to become whiny and obnoxious Gen-Y posing.
The first track of Building, called Overstand, is a short but sweet song that will hook you. If you like this style of music, you’ll be ready to delve in further right away. Side 1 will just keep kicking your butt. This generally continues through Different Times, Will, and Leia, and lasts all the way through the final track, Sight Unseen, which is also in the run for my favorite. In fact, there’s only one song on this CD that I’m not crazy about, but lest I spoil you, I’ll keep it a mystery. The fact remains that Sense Field delivered and then some with Building.
Sense Field went on to record three more albums including an EP, however, the final two albums never really had the magic spark, which singer Jon Bunch attributed to several factors, including the label pressures and bad financial decisions, but moreso to the fact that the scene had changed and the guys had just lost their passion for that band at that time. I was able to see Sense Field on the east coast twice on two different tours, and the final time, I was able not only to meet them all, but also chat with them. It was sad that so few people appeared to know their songs and their history. Unfortunately, Sense Field is likely to be most remembered for their one radio hit, “Save Yourself,” about abstinence, which may have ironically led to their downfall. Not only did the song get them labeled a “Christian band” (“not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we’re not a Christian band,” says Bunch) , but it also gave people a taste of Sense Field that really wasn’t who they were, leading people to check them out and then potentially be disappointed.
Nothing will change the fact that Building was and remains and incredible album, strangely as strong today as it was then. Check out Sense Field’s Building on Amazon.com.
In the early 00′s, there was a flood of what I call “new punk” or “candy punk” on the music scene, fronted by several bands, some of which I really liked. Yellowcard, New Found Glory, and many others were amongst the successful, and they brought a combination of punk, rock, and run-of-the-mill pop music together. Amongst that group was a band that was unfairly seen, I think, as one of the “candy punk.” Something Corporate demonstrated, on their two major releases, some brilliant song writing, some beautiful composition, and great musicality.
The singles released from “Leaving Though the Window,” their first album, include “Punk Rock Princess” and “If U C Jorden”, both of which, I think, hold up well today. But the masterpieces are in between: the gorgeous harmony of “Hurricane,” the slow rocking of “Fall,” the bounce of “I Woke Up in a Car,” the humor of “Drunk Girl.” Something Corporate was able to convey a sense of humor balanced against their strong composition. For example, without sounding didactic – the way they build up to the first chorus but pull it away in favor of another verse; or the way a first chorus will only give you half the lines before the fuller subsequent ones. “Leave ‘em wanting more” really does apply with music, and it leads to repeat listens.
What makes Something Corporate unique is that they are built around the piano played by their frontman, Andrew McMahon. As a result, every song has a depth and tone missed by second rate bands like “Panic! At the Disco” and “Fall Out Boy” driven by almost entirely by power chords. The future for Something Corporate is definitely cloudy: McMahon was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after recording a solo album mid-decade and has gone on record suggesting his interest in Something Corporate is more nostalgic than create, but also as suggesting that not ever recording and touring again would be a let down to fans. Not counting demos, EPs, maxi-singles, and earlier releases, we only have two major releases for this young and talented band. Every single song on “Leaving Through the Window” is worth a listen. You should check it out.
1997′s The Colour and the Shape by The Foo Fighters is often overlooked, or more often only remembered for “My Hero,” “Everlong,” and “Monkey Wrench.” But it’s got some fantastic songs on it. The intro, “Doll,” is a great little warm up. Every song from “Hey Johnny Park!” through “New Way Home” is an interesting an solitary adventure. My personal favorite, “February Stars,” is keenly emotional, as is the slow “Walking After You.” At the same time, “My Poor Brain” and “Wind Up” make for poppish, faster tunes that really can inspire excitement. On top of that, all of the singles from the album have endured the test of time well, and all remain enjoyable rock songs that do not feel like overly faded denim.
Quite the contrary: The Colour and The Shape remains The Foo Fighters’ masterpiece, despite many subsequent hits. The Colour and The Shape proved that Dave Grohl could exist in a post-Nirvana band with its own identity.
Every so often, I’m going to post an album recommendation. I have lots of “favorite” albums, but I’m going to share a few that I find especially good. Today brings an album that really captures the flavor of rock in the early 1990s.
In the early 90s, Guns N’ Roses had successfully killed off hair metal in favor of accessible heavy metal. That changed when the Use Your Illusion albums came out – as “rock” more than metal – and rock softened up a little. Bands like Mr. Big and Firehouse were suddenly relevant. A little known Southern band who had been around since the mid-80s dropped into the scene with a fantastic album called “Fly Me Courageous.”
Fly Me Courageous features several great songs besides the title track which became a successful single, most notably “Let’s Go Dancing.” Other songs such as “For You,” “Look What You’ve Done to Your Brother,” and “Around the Block Again” are really great songs that are a throwback to that period in rock music. While it certainly won’t feel like current music, it will certainly prove to be a successful demonstration of just good, catchy song writing.