Saturday, February 12, 2011

February 12: Rites Of Spring, "Persistent Vision"

Artist: Rites Of Spring
Song: "Persistent Vision"
Album: Rites Of Spring
Year: 1985

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Though many cities contributed to its development, there is no arguing that the most critical city when it comes to the progression of hardcore music is Washington, DC.  Whether one is considering the fact that the movement was largely founded in that city, or looking at the numerous bands that helped to expand the genre stylistically over the years, the fact of the matter is, without DC, hardcore music never happens.  From the early days to the present, one need look no further than the catalog of Dischord Records to follow the progression of the sound, and within their long list of legendary bands, few shine brighter than the innovative, pulverizing sound of Rites Of Spring.  Though the band itself was quite short lived, the amount of impact they had is immeasurable, as many have pointed to their music as the first "emocore" recordings.  Bringing their unique take on the hardcore sound, Rites Of Spring brought a more introspective, almost cathartic mood to the high energy thrash, and one can easily argue that the finest moment in the genre can be found in their legendary 1985 self-titled album.  With each song on the record reinforcing the overall urgency of the band, it seemed as if they could implode at any moment.  It is this wild energy, combined with a brilliant set of lyrics that pushes Rites Of Spring's 1985 song, "Persistent Vision" far beyond the rest of their work, and it stands as one of the most influential recordings in history.

As is the standard in the hardcore music of the time, "Persistent Vision" wastes no time in grabbing the listener, and the almost nervous energy of the band is immediately apparent.  Perhaps the main aspect that makes Rites Of Spring sound so different lies within this clear sense of urgency in their music, and there has never been another band that has been able to match this mood.  Rites Of Spring were well known for "playing every show as if it was their last," and this same sentiment rings clear in the sound on their records.  On "Persistent Vision," guitarists Guy Picciotto and Eddie Janney are in top form, and the way in which they tear across the track is absolutely stunning.  There is a thrash sound within their playing, and yet something clearly melodic is also present, helping to give the song a structure unlike a majority of hardcore songs.  The rhythm section of drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Michael Fellows quickly prove to be one of the finest in the history of hardcore, and the way in which they seem to be trying to push the songs' speed to the point of chaos is one of the most engaging aspects of "Persistent Vision."  There is not a moment wasted anywhere on the track, and when compared to other songs that boast such an accomplishment, it becomes clear that "Persistent Vision" does this in a manner which few others have shown.  The fact that there is a deep, emotional feel to the music is the main feature that separates it from "just hardcore," and they rarely showed it better than one finds on "Persistent Vision."

Though the music on "Persistent Vision" is almost impossible to fully grasp, the overall impact of the song is made all the more mind-blowing by the vocal work of Guy Picciotto.  Giving a glimpse into the sound he would perfect with his later groups, within Rites Of Spring, he is able to match the sense of urgency, as well as push the emotional connection to an unparalleled level.  While he does scream at times on "Persistent Vision," there is no question that a majority of the time, Picciotto is singing, just in his own style.  It is this "everyman" vocal approach that helps to make the music even more universal, and this is yet another clear link to the punk rock roots of hardcore music.  However, though his delivery may be similar to his hardcore peers, there is no more apparent a way in which the group was different than when one looks to their lyrics.  While a majority of hardcore bands were rallying against "the system" or just shouting for the sake of shouting, Rites Of Spring turned the pen on themselves, and the personal nature of their words make the song all the more powerful.  On "Persistent Vision," one can find one of the bands' finest lyrical moments, and it is easy to argue that one would not expect words like, "...and though I know you're not in my eyes, I can't seem to clear you from my mind..." within anything remotely "hardcore."  It is the fact that this works so well as a combined song that would kick-start and entire new movement within hardcore, and one can point to Guy Picciotto's performance here as the defining moment.

After hearing Rites Of Spring's "Persistent Vision," one can easily understand how the sounds of Fugazi came to be, as both Picciotto and Canty would join Joe Lally and the iconic Ian MacKaye to create more legendary music within that group.  Yet one cannot deny the fact that, though they were short lived (playing only 15 shows), Rites Of Spring were without question one of the most influential bands in the entire history of punk and hardcore music.  Though they shared a similar musical thrash and urgency within their music, it is the more subtle aspects that set Rites Of Spring so far apart from their peers.  On songs like "Persistent Vision," one can easily hear that their musical arrangements were far more complex, and the fact that they were able to convey such heavy emotion within their sound is a testament to the talent within the band members.  Throughout their entire self-titled debut, the group holds nothing back, and it is this honest, unguarded approach that gives the record a universal feel.  This change in many ways reflected the sentiment of the hardcore scene at the time, as many felt that the overall violent and pessimistic perception of the scene was doing more damage than good.  To this end, Rites Of Spring provided a brilliant contrast, both sonically and in terms of content, and it was this change that spearheaded many new strands of music within the hardcore scene.  Though they are often overlooked due to their exceptionally short career, there are few groups as original in sound or crucial to the development of music than one can hear within Rites Of Spring's monumental 1985 song, "Persistent Vision."

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