The Thomas Top Five: 9/5/16
The Thomas Top Five is now a themed weekly countdown of five great records our Editor-in-Chief recommends. In honor of the fast-approaching Fall, this week is dedicated to emo EPs.
Boys Life / Christie Front Drive – S/T
Favorite Tracks: “Homecoming,” “Instant Romance,” “Valentine”
In the nascent days of the emo genre, all but the biggest and baddest players burnt out almost as soon as they found their stride, plagued by underground obscurity and middling record sales. Boys Life and Christie Front Drive were no exceptions to this rule, but the universe at least had the decency to have them record one final swan song together before they departed. Although the two acts have markedly different styles, they still manage to perfectly compliment each other, with the angular, jagged highs of Boys Life slowly giving way to the melancholic blanket of Midwest twinkle that Christie Front Drive provides. While Boys Life is slightly more gripping from a compositional standpoint, featuring a math-y atonality and a rigid soft-quiet dynamic that’s reminiscent of early indie standouts such as Modest Mouse, it’s no less rewarding to appreciate Christie Front Drive’s dabbling into the big, bright, radio-friendly tones (and somewhat more conventionally palatable vocals) that would later catapult bands such as Jimmy Eat World into the limelight. With a little something for every emo fan, this seldom heard EP proves to be a hidden gem.
Christopher Robin – S/T
Favorite Tracks: “Brother,” “One Million and One Watts”
Dear, newcomers: Stay away! However, if you’ve had your fill of these sad, sappy missives on love and lost youth, then it’s always beneficial to remember that emo had its roots in punk and post-hardcore, and I’ve got just the thing to jog your memory. A blistering 11 minutes of vengeful frustration and unfettered distortion, CHRISTOPHER ROBIN nearly borders on noise rock and grindcore in certain spots (I’ll be damned if “Sungsonrise” doesn’t sound a bit like The Locust), which makes the more faithful recreations of the emo that became “popular” all the more impressive (the first half of “One Million and One Watts”). However, just because things are quick and dirty doesn’t mean that the playing itself is lazy, and any lackluster mixing only speaks of the independent and liminal nature of both the recording and the movement in general. The only legitimate effort this particular quarter would ever release, Christopher Robin may not be the emo act to show your mother, but anyone looking to get their ass severely beaten (you can’t claim that “Dethel Ether” wouldn’t absolutely wreck a pit) by four lo-fi tracks from Seattle should look no further.
Everyone Asked About You – S/T
Favorite Tracks: “Paper Airplanes, Paper Hearts,” “Everyone Asked About You”
This is so precious and pure! Although Hannah Vogan’s vocals still possess that untrained, youthful timbre that emo fans know and love, she actually bothers to attempt melodic singing here, a welcome change from the angst-riddled yips and yelps of many of her male peers. Her voice itself is frail and wispy, most readily comparable to Japanese dream pop acts, and the rest of the band does an admirable job of coming up with strong riffs and melodic hooks (just listen to the titular closer!) that she perfectly latches onto, resulting in an effort that’s undeniably twee but all the more emotionally devastating for it. It wouldn’t be emo if there wasn’t a sense of dynamic progression that capitalizes in all-encompassing crescendos, but there’s nothing to worry about, as the resolutions here are among the more confident I’ve heard, even when compared to veterans of the genre (“It’s Days Like This That Make Me Wish the Summer Lasted Forever”). Adding an additional layer of intrigue with a regularly incorporated keyboard (TWIABP&IANLATD must have been taking notes on the opening to “It’s Days Like This…”), Everyone Asked About You may have been short-lived, but they certainly turned in one of the more memorable statements while they were around.
Penfold – AMATEURS AND PROFESSIONALS
Favorite Tracks: “June,” “I’ll Take You Everywhere,” “Tuesday,” “Amateur Standing”
Hey, I get it, emo can be scary, what with all of the embedded cultural implications and bearded white men yelling that those are all wrong. Fear not! AMATEURS AND PROFESSIONALS is just the kind of welcoming, easily accessible EP for you to start out with! Get that post-hardcore and screamo business out of here, all we’ve got on our hands here is pensive, clean-cut guitars, meaty choruses, and a vocal style that manages to convey passion without toeing the lines of common taste (occasionally accompanied by female vocals, to boot!). Of course, Penfold can’t resist letting their songs build up to transcendental highs of emotion, but things never become so noisy and unfounded as to completely devolve into chaos, and the distinct measure of restraint here (except perhaps on more punk-influenced “Traveling Theory”) is what ultimately elevates this EP above many releases by their peers. With textured, interweaving instrumentation, a bass-heavy mix that brings Mineral to mind, and no ragged screams anywhere to be found, this is a great emo release for the uninitiated.
The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – FORMLESSNESS
Favorite Tracks: “Victim Kin Seek Suit,” “Eyjafjallajokull Dance”
Heaven help those who attempt to debate what current wave of emo revival we’re in, but any way you slice it, TWIABP&IANLATD is by far the most essential band currently making music within it. It’s no secret that we’re fans of their full-length debut and follow-up, but their impeccable FORMLESSNESS deserves an equal amount of praise. With added benefits when listened to as one cohesive piece, the four tracks on FORMLESSNESS perfectly bleed into each other, from the feverish crescendos of “Victim Kin Seek Suit,” to the languid, conversational guitar tones of “Gordon Paul,” to the communal sing-along of “Walnut Street Is Dead (Long Live Walnut Street),” to the post-rock peak of “Eyjafjallajokull Dance.” Although WHENEVER, IF EVER more or less sticks within the same tonal ballpark, it’s a treat to hear the group cut their teeth on the techniques that would earn them acclaim, especially their trademark ability to progress a track into an orgy of overlayered bliss. Those who typically ignore EPs would do well to pay attention to this one!