Saturday, September 4, 2010

September 4: The Descendents, "Myage"

Artist: The Descendents
Song: "Myage"
Album: Milo Goes To College
Year: 1982

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Though they are often seen as two completely separate styles of music, there was a time when punk and hardcore were very much one in the same.  From coast to coast, the ferocity and sheer volume that came from such bands was beyond unsettling, as it was clear they had a message that demanded to be heard.  However, this overly-powerful approach often put off many listeners, and the two styles split into the more identifiable forms which they remain to this day.  Yet even in the prime of the "shared sound" era, there were a handful of bands that took such a unique musical approach, that they easily crossed over into many other fanbases.  Though many attempted to take the hardcore-punk hybrid and give it a wider appeal, few bands achieved this goal with better results than Los Angeles legends, The Descendents.  Bringing an undeniable melody and hook to the sound unlike any other band at the time, the groups' 1982 album, Milo Goes To College, remains today one of the greatest albums ever, and it remains a blueprint for bands looking to fuse together the two genres.  Nearly every song on the album has been covered over the years, and few records of any genre so perfectly express the frustrations and energy of youth.  Taking the short, to the point approach of punk and blending it together with the volume and power of hardcore, there are few songs that can hold their own against The Descendents classic 1982 song, "Myage."

From the moment the song begins, it is clear that this is not your average punk record, as the dizzying bassline from Tony Lombardo remains one of the greatest album openings in history.  Yet it is also this bassline that connects the band with their peers, as one cannot deny the similar tone that can be found in the songs of their peers like Black Flag and Circle Jerks.  Moments later, the rest of the band comes crashing down on the track, led by the brilliant drumming assault of Bill Stevenson.  Truth be told, few drummers in history have shown the combined speed and precision that Stevenson displays, and his never ending attack makes "Myage" even more distant from the songs of their peers, as the drums are rarely as far forward in the mix as one finds here.  Adding to the volume and almost chaotic sound on "Myage," guitarist Frank Navetta proves to be far more talented than his young age would suggest, as he seamlessly moves from ripping progressions into powerful cadence with his bandmates.  The brief opening riff that he plays after the bass intro fits perfectly and makes the song feel as if it is falling down and into pieces as the drums batter it from every angle.  It is this ability to bring a movement and undeniable melody into their music that makes The Descendents so different from their peers, and it is also the reason that "Myage" has persevered over the decades as such an iconic song.

The final element that makes "Myage" such an amazing song is the namesake of Milo Goes To College, vocalist Milo Aukerman.  Embodying everything that makes a punk singer great, Auckerman's voice has all of the anger, angst, and attitude that one could ask for, and yet there is a sense of honestly and authenticity within his singing that cannot be denied.  This is another element that sets The Descendents apart from their peers, as Auckerman's performance is the final piece that makes any thoughts of the band being copycats a completely impossible and illogical argument.  Auckerman's vocals are also another point where one can find the seemingly strange sense of melody within the music of The Descendents, and his performance on "Myage" remains one of his finest recorded efforts.  Perhaps serving as the key to the feeling of truth within their music, nearly all of the lyrics found on Milo Goes To College were clearly taken directly from the band members' lives.  "Myage" was written entirely by Bill Stevenson, and yet it is clear that the feelings expressed were ones with which Auckerman was quite familiar.  The opening lines of, "..almost ready, almost there, or is it already over..." are strangely philosophical, and few bands of the era were able to construct lyrics at the same intellectual level as one often finds within the music of The Descendents.  The longing and vulnerability found on "Myage" is also a bit odd for the time, as most punk bands simply wanted to express anger and frustration, leaving "real" feelings for other bands.  This idea, along with the brilliant way in which Milo Auckerman delivers each word are in a class all their own, and it is why "Myage" remains such an amazing song nearly thirty years after it was first released.

Though Milo Goes To College would be the only record The Descendents would release for a number of years (due to Auckerman pursuing a degree in biology), it remains today a true classic of the punk rock genre, and the music and mood found within have rarely been equaled.  It was also on this album that Stevenson quickly became one of the greatest drummers of his era, and he would serve time playing in a number of other bands, whenever a drummer of exceptional talent was needed.  Yet within his role in The Descendents, he is surrounded by the finest group of musicians from any point in his career.  The deadly guitar assault from Lombardo and Navetta has the volume and power of the hardest of hardcore bands, and yet there is an almost minimalist feel that embodies the spirit of punk rock.  Similarly, Auckerman walks this line between styles, and the resulting vocals stand today as some of the finest of the entire era.  The opening of the album, "Myage," is without question one of the most power first tracks ever recorded, as the band rips across the song, pausing for brief riffing from each member, and the combined effort is nothing short of stunning.  There is a strange friendliness to the ferocity found on the song, and it is this juxtaposition of sounds that has yet to be equaled by any other band.  Without question one of the greatest songs in the history of punk and hardcore, one simply cannot overstate the importance and extraordinary music and mood found within The Descendents 1982 classic, "Myage."

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