Sunday, December 6, 2009

December 6: Rites Of Spring, "Rites Of Spring"

Artist: Rites Of Spring
Album: Rites Of Spring
Year: 1985
Label: Dischord

Over the years, certain genre titles become convoluted and in many ways become so different from their original meaning, that it is almost impossible to connect old and new. Similarly, there are many cases where the general consensus is that a term or style is new, and yet it was clearly being played decades earlier then most believe. In the late 1990's, as well as throughout the first decade of the following century, the term "emo" became all the rage, and an overwhelming majority of people lived under the impression that not only was this a new style, but a new term as well. The truth of the matter is, both the style and the term can be traced back to the early 1980's, and to a single band, Rites Of Spring. Without question the first "emo" band, Rites Of Spring were one of the many brilliant, original bands to emerge from the early 1980's music scene in Washington, D.C. Pulling influence from bands like Wire and Gang of Four, as well as many of their local peers, Rites Of Spring brought a new sound to the "hardcore" sound, and the work they did in two short years has had a massive, yet mostly unknown influence on countless bands that followed. A band filled with juxtapositions, Rites Of Spring remain one of the most powerful musical acts in history, yet their name was taken from the ballet, "The Rite Of Spring." Comprised of some of Washington, D.C.'s favorite sons, and finding their home on the ultimate indie label, Dischord Records, Rites Of Spring's 1985 self titled debut remains one of the most important and impressive albums ever recorded.

Though it has become somewhat different in modern times, the original idea behind "emo" music was hardcore, punk-based music with lyrics that overflowed with personal emotions. In its early days, it still held the original terminology, "emocore," which is what kept it tied to the hardcore and punk scenes, as opposed to its largely more mellow depiction that is found in the current music scene. Yet in many ways, Rites Of Spring led the way for a group of bands looking to redefine the entire view of "what" the hardcore scene meant in the eyes of the world. At the time, the portrayal of the hardcore music scene, particularly in Washington, D.C., was that of one filled with violence and a generally nihilistic point of view within many of the bands. Clearly, this was an inaccurate representation, as if one looks at the bands that were present at the time (Minor Threat, Government Issue, etc), while the music was as powerful as ever, the lyrical content was more about unity then it was about destruction. Rites Of Spring took things a step further, as their lyrics completely ignored the "macho" vibe that permeated much of hardcore music, as well as taking a greater focus on the instrumentation of their songs. These conscious changes in their music not only made their albums completely fresh, but the handful of live performances that the band had during the few years they were a band became legendary, as they earned the reputation as one of the most explosive and creative live bands in history. In fact, Rites Of Spring were known for their shows being so powerful, that at the end of the shows, there was often nothing more than destroyed equipment and a band and crowd without an ounce of energy left.

The fact that their live performances gained such a reputation comes as little surprise when one realizes who exactly made up the band. The sound found on Rites Of Spring all begins with the powerful guitar work of Eddie Janey. Using just enough distortion, Janey tears up the entire record, from crushing chords to beautiful progressions, and it is his innovations and approach to playing that influence so many players who followed. The rhythm section of Rites Of Spring are without question one of the most powerful, and it is due to the fact that the pair who comprise the section remain today two of the greatest musicians of their generation. Bassist Mike Fellows (AKA Mightly Flashlight), is absolutely brilliant throughout Rites Of Spring, and though be may be better known for his later work with bands like Silver Jews and Will Oldham, it is his work with Rites Of Spring that is without question his finest. It is often Fellows' sound that drives the intensity of the songs, and one can feel the frenzy that his live playing must have created. The final piece of the music of Rites Of Spring is Brendan Canty, a man who has proved to be one of the most amazing drummers in history. Best known for anchoring Fugazi, Canty is just as fantastic on Rites Of Spring, and the record gives an early glimpse of what would come nearly a decade later. Without question some of the greatest musicians of their generation, Rites Of Spring fused together all of their talents to create a sound like no other, and their efforts and innovations cannot be overstated.

While the music on Rites Of Spring is absolutely superb, the true genius of the band unquestionably comes in the form of guitarist, lyricist, and lead singer, Guy Picciotto. Also best known for his work with Fugazi, Picciotto's voice perfectly captures the power and mood of every song. Having already honed his craft fronting a number of smaller bands over the previous years, Rites Of Spring is the band that brought Picciotto to the forefront of the Washington, D.C. music scene. Possessing a voice that is immediately distinguishable from any other singer in history, Picciotto's voice instantly whips listeners into a frenzy, whether live or through a stereo. This is due to the intense, raw performance that he brings to every song, and few other artists in history have so completely given themselves to the music. Picciotto's highly emotional approach fits the lyrics and the mood perfectly, and this is truly where the "emocore" genre was birthed. With brilliant lyrical statements like, "...if it's not the rule then it's always the case, good intentions get fractured, good intentions get close to reach but so hard to hold, the only chance you get is past your control..." it was clear that there was far more to the punk and hardcore style then just shouting and calling for rebellion. This massive shift in approach, challenging the audience to truly listen and understand the songs on a personal level, as opposed to an "anti-everything" level marks a pivotal moment in music history, and the effects are truly immeasurable.

While modern day "emo" music is little more then an endless parade of cliché copycats, the founders of the genre created some of the most original and powerful music ever recorded. It is within the music of these early bands that one can still clearly hear the connection to the hardcore scene from whence the music originated. Not a slow, acoustic bore as it has become, the early bands of the "emocore" scene represent some of the most powerful and intense bands to ever record, and many of their live performances live on today in music lore. Standing high above the other early emocore bands, and remaining one of the most intense bands of any genre, Rites Of Spring sought to re-write the books on hardcore music, as well as completely shift the public perception of the Washington, D.C. hardcore scene. Led by later-Fugazi players Brendan Canty and Guy Picciotto, one can hear faint rumblings of their later work on their self titled debut record. Equally as impressive are the rest of the band, and the guitars of Janney and Fellows push the music on Rites Of Spring to the next level, making this album play like nothing else before of after. This ability to remain unquestionably "hardcore" in sound, yet make music like nothing else is the true genius behind Rites Of Spring, and every bit of this musical superiority can be found on their pivotal and phenomenal 1985 debut, Rites Of Spring.

Standout tracks: "For Want Of," "Persistent Vision," and "Other Way Around."

1 comment:

dr.nick said...

this is a hell of a record! great job wth the blog anyway!