Christie Front Drive/Boy's Life split 10" (Crank!, 1995)
Christie Front Drive (Early-Get Up Kids, Mineral, Billy Music)
Boy's Life (Drive Like Jehu, Texas is the Reason, Kerosene 454)
You will find a lot of mid-20 somethings like me who are still ardent apologists for "emo" music as we understand it. Emo, before its appropriation and bastardization into emotionally manipulative song structures and histrionics (bands like Story of the Year have way more in common with U2 than with the bands listed above), meant something wholly different. Songs, freshly broken free of the restraints of hardcore (another misunderstood term), still retained the grating edge, gruff dissonance, and direct heart-to-throat vocal expressionism. After rolling over the vast corn fields of the midwest, emo settled and came to its own. It mellowed, became more intricate (softer), with intertwined dual guitar melodies twisting over the melancholy of sensitive, poetry reading kids who idolized Morrissey but recently quit their straight-edge grindcore band. Things got sad, they also got fierce.
Pardon the half-history lesson/half-apologetics, but to preface reviewing an emo record without writing it off as teenage nostalgia requires some exposition. Standing by itself this split 10" is a perfect representation of mid-western emo circa 1995 and exemplary of the incredible output of Omaha's Crank! Records. In many ways, this album is firmly rooted in my own nostalgia of my teenage moodiness. I bought this record in 2002 (I wasn't this hip when I was 10) during my junior year of high school from Twist and Shout Records in Denver (represent!!). Reading about Christie Front Drive in many a zine I would pick up in my pilgrimages downtown and early internet chat rooms, I got the sense that these guys were some sort of untouchable demi-gods of the midwestern emo scene and touchstones in Denver's early indie-rock underground. While they had been long broken up before I got see them live, their influence was felt far and wide both in Denver (Acrobat Down and Planes Mistaken For Stars (more on them later)) to up and coming national acts like Jimmy Eat World out of Arizona (with whom they did a split very early on) and The Get Up Kids and The Appleseed Cast out of Lawrence, KS. "Valentine" whose sole lyrics are "It's in my soul/it's in my heart" made it into just about every mixtape I ever made for a girl. Don't look at me like I'm a creep, those lyrics were (and still are) and poignant and succinct statement about how I feel about some of my most closely held beliefs. Wow. Was that "emo" or what? The bands' "Stereo" is alright, as is Eric Richter's electro/shoegaze project Antartica but these three songs encapsulated everything I loved about the genre, the delicate guitar work, slooow breakdowns with driving bass lines, and Richter's impassioned vocals kept low in the mix.
Kansas City's Boy's Life are a different side of the same coin. Taking their cues from some of the more abrasive movements in the genre, Boy's Life married the complex math time signatures and start-stop-audiblydropout-scream! song structure of Drive Like Jehu with the inherent melodicism of Texas is the Reason. Significantly more aggressive than Christie Front Drive, Boy's Life is best taken short gasps, these three songs rank as some of their best of their career ("Sight Unseen" is truly amazing) and showcase their penchant for composing complex arrangements and discordant dive-bombs into frentic, feedback-drenched-freakouts that deny any of the pop song structures associated with the latest wave of asymmetrical hair-cutted emo-bros. So good. Their debut full length also released in 1995, is a bit hard to swallow in one sitting, but when viewed in retrospect is downright heroic and has moments of unrestrained brilliance.
So, there you have it. The first but definitely not the last of influential emo albums I will cover on future FRIDAY NOSTALGIA posts.
Christie Front Drive from their 2007 reunion show