Friday, February 11, 2011

February 11: Gorilla Biscuits, "Start Today"

Artist: Gorilla Biscuits
Song: "Start Today"
Album: Start Today
Year: 1989

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Though there are a handful of truly revolutionary stylistic developments throughout the course of music history, in an overwhelming majority of cases, though it is sometimes hard to see, the progression of music follows an evolutionary path over the decades.  Whether it is the transition from blues to rock and roll or the next move from rock to heavy metal, there is a clear lineage of artists that assisted such changes over a number of years.  It is with this idea in mind that one can look at the current interpretation of terms like "punk" and "hardcore" and wonder exactly how it came to be, as the more modern notion of these sounds carries with it a far larger influence from pop music than the originators of the styles in question.  This too was not a revolutionary moment, and as the 1980's came to a close, one can see the shift in how bands approached such music.  During this transformation of style, few groups were more important or more impressive than New York City hardcore icons, Gorilla Biscuits, and it was their second record, 1989's Start Today, that remains today one of the greatest and most influential records in history.  In both the sound the band emits, as well as the vocal approach, one can easily hear how they are clearly an "old school" hardcore band, but at the same time, the heavier element of pop cannot be denied.  Though every song on the album is worth hearing, there is perhaps no other song that represents both the band and this unique musical transition than one finds in Gorilla Biscuits' classic 1989 single, "Start Today."

Without question, "Start Today" contains one of the most uniquely memorable openings, as the echoed guitar riff almost sounds like the end of a song, and one can draw a number of interpretations from this thought.  Yet once the main part of the song kicks in, there is little question that the song is as hardcore as one could want, and the bands' straightedge influences are quickly obvious.  The punching guitars from Alex Brown and Walter Schreifels gives the song all the attitude one could want, and yet there are brief solos found throughout the song that can be seen as a separation from the "standard" punk approach.  Bassist Artthur Smilios is absolutely phenomenal on the song, and his fast-paced playing is far more complex than a majority of the bass work that had been heard in either the punk or hardcore genres previously.  It is largely within his performance that one can hear a strong link and influence from bands like Fugazi and Minor Threat, and yet there are also many that feel Gorilla Biscuits are on the same level as those groups.  Adding in an almost chaotic, destructive feel to the song, drummer Luke Abbey is easily as good, if not better than nearly every other drummer in the entire history of the hardcore movement, and the combined sound of the group is both intimidating, yet somehow catchy.  However, when one discusses "Start Today," it is impossible to ignore the seemingly out-of-place harmonica solo that appears at the end of the song, and the fact that this manages to fit perfectly with the song gives a clear link between hardcore and blues, making "Start Today" all the more significant.

Adding in the final essential element to "Start Today," vocalist CIV (real name: Anthony Civarelli) brings all of the aggression and angst that one could want within a hardcore song.  Though he clearly has the almost venomous bite that defines many hardcore frontmen, CIV also shows that he is quite capable of more "standard" singing styles, and this is yet another area in which one can hear the transition to the more modern sounds heard within the hardcore genre.  It is also in CIV's voice that the almost more relaxed, lighter approach of the band becomes most apparent, and it is this aspect that leads many to rightfully argue Gorilla Biscuits as the "other" side of the hardcore sound.  Yet this slightly lighter approach in no way lessens the overall impact of the song, and in both what CIV says, as well as how he says it, "Start Today" contains a lyric that simply cannot be ignored.  As is true with many straightedge songs, "Start Today" is a rallying cry against complacency, and in both the lyrics, as well as the overall feeling of urgency within the song, the intent cannot be missed.  When CIV sings, "...well there's no time like the present and I'd like to hang out but who doesn't...," it may seem like a "normal" thought of youth, yet when placed into context with the rest of the song, it becomes almost inspirational, and it is this ability to give such words so much meaning that makes "Start Today" such an unforgettable moment in music history.

Taken as a complete musical work, one cannot deny the fact that in the lighter approach to the hardcore sound, Gorilla Biscuits set the new blueprint for what many now term as "pop punk" or "power punk."  Bringing a more musically complete approach, as well as distinctive vocal harmonies, the band showed that aggressive music could have a bit of a more relaxed feel without sacrificing any of its intensity.  The entire band brings a massive amount of energy and aggression to the song, and it helps "Start Today" to become a uniquely uplifting and inspiring musical experience.  This, in many ways, defines the "intent" of both punk and hardcore, as it is more than "just a song," making a purposeful attempt at pushing the listener into taking action.  It is this element that seems to have been left out within the more modern incarnations of the sound, and the authenticity of such an intent is what separates Gorilla Biscuits from nearly all of their peers and followers.  Though many try and tie the band closely to the likes of Minor Threat, the fact of the matter is that one can more clearly hear the influence of bands like The Descendents within their music, and it is in this fact that the link between punk and hardcore becomes most apparent.  Regardless of their influences, the music which the band plays remains some of the most uniquely exciting in history, and it is much the reason that Gorilla Biscuits and their 1989 single, "Start Today" have endured as one of the most influential and inspiring moments in the entire history of recorded music.

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