It’s been a long trip since first hearing Minor Threat in the back of a station wagon on the way to school in 1990. That blast of righteous fury was my intro to the DC hardcore scene, my intro to Discord Records, and my intro to the great Ian MacKaye. Since then it’s been a long and wonderful road of discovery; not only through the man’s discography, but through the incredible music the label has been steadily putting out since the early 80s. So today let’s briefly talk about the connective tissue between the early rage of Minor Threat and the more propulsive, moody rush of Fugazi – the self-titled and sole record from Embrace.
The first thing that hits on opening track “Give Me Back” is the incredible melody in the guitars. We still have MacKaye’s signature shout/speak vocal delivery, but it’s couched in some wonderful punk/rock (as opposed to punk rock, if that makes any sense – I refuse to use the term “emo” since Mackaye was dead set against it as well) that really drives forward without a massive amount of gain. That may have been my biggest surprise with Embrace – it’s heavy without resorting to so many of things that bands use to be heavy.
Lyrically tracks like “Dance of Days” and “Spoke” drive right to the heart of what makes MacKaye such a relevant force after so many decades: the message of disaffected youth struggling to make sense of a mad world doesn’t fade with time, or even age – listening now 35 years after its release I’m still caught up with the sense of incredulous confusion that nothing had changed, and the words ring even more true today for me than they did when I was a kid.
None of that matters though unless it’s coupled with some killer music, and the rhythm section of Ivor Hanson on drums and Chris Bald on bass do a fantastic job of laying down a powerful foundation for MacKaye and guitarist Michael Hampton to work around. Bald’s bass in particular is a beast, often taking on a lead quality, similar to peter Hook’s infectious lines in Joy Division. In fact, if there’s a musical I continue to make when listening to Embrace it’s Joy Division, albeit a more live, rough and tumble version of the band more evidenced on their stellar live bootlegs than on their (equally stellar, IMHO) studio albums.
Embrace and the music that came and continues to arrive from Dischord satisfies a musical need like nothing else in my listening habits. If you’re only familiar with Minor Threat or Fugazi, Embrace is a perfect cross section to dive in and get further addicted. Bonus for ordering direct from Dischord – service is uniformly excellent, and you can awesome hand-written notes inside your boxes. I can’t say it though…
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