Friday, August 27, 2010

unrefined records vs refined records (or) why kids like hardcore music so much PART 1

To me, something being unrefined means as pure and raw as it can get. It means just straight-up emotion. Not too much thinking, not too much preplanning about what you're going to say, just going up to a microphone and saying/singing/screaming about what is overflowing in your heart at that moment. Some of my favorite records of my youth, and still to this day, have been in this vein: Chiodos: All's Well That Ends Well, Dashboard Confessional: The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, My Chemical Romance: Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge, The Chariot: Wars and Rumors of War, Saosin: Translating the Name, Underoath: Define the Great Line, The Devil Wears Prada: With Roots Above and Branches Below...and many, many more.

Now, please don't get me wrong, I some of my favorite records are also the most refined and thought out I've ever heard: Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago, 1997: ...A Better View of the Rising Moon, Matthew Good: Avalanche, Lydia: Illuminate...and again--many, many more.

I'm not saying one way is better than the other by any means. In fact, I love them both equally.

But I have noticed a problem between the two. I have noticed that if a band writes an unrefined record, and follows it up with a refined record, it will generally not be received as well. Let me explain via a few of my favorite records, and then the same bands follow up albums:


"All's Well that Ends Well" vs "Bone Palace Ballet"

"All's Well that Ends Well"--->When I first sat down to listen to Chiodo's (official) debut record, "All's Well That Ends Well", I seriously had a tidal wave of emotions. The music was so fast, so unstructured, so adhd, it was amazing. And Craig Owens's voice just periced my ears with conviction and angst with lyrics such as "One day women will all become monsters...", "If your stomach feels weak then my work here is done", I knew this dude had something really rotten happen to him, and you could tell by his voice and lyrics.

"Bone Palace Ballet"--->Then a few years afterwards, enter the much more refined "The Bone Palace Ballet", a seemingly post-hardcore symphony. It felt structured to me. It felt planned. And Craig's voice had lost that conviction and angst that it had on their (official) debut record. It sounded controlled, it sounded like he actually choose to hold back, therefore creating a lot more of a dynamic record than "All's Well That Ends Well". Which is not a bad thing by any means. There are many great songs on this album, and Craig's voice does sound a lot better, in regards to technique, than their first one.

The Verdict--->When "Bone Palace Ballet" came out, I read one phrase over and over on message boards "There isn't enough screaming". At face value, this sounds really childish. These emo kids were upset that Craig Owens decided to scream less and focus on singing more? Well, not quite. What I believe they meant by "There isn't enough screaming" is: "Where'd the passion go?" With Owens choosing to refine his voice to fit songs like "A Letter to Janelle" and "Intensity in Ten Cities", he lost a lot of craze he had in his voice on the original record.

Dashboard Confessional

"The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most" vs "The Shade of Poison Trees", "Dusk and Summer", " Alter the Ending"

"The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most"--->In 2001, Chris Carrabba released his second acoustic record under the name of Dashboard Confessional. To the average fan, Chris sounded like a kid who kept getting his heart broken in high school. That every single girl who looked his way he would fall in love with, then get his heart broken, and then write a song like "The Brilliant Dance" via picking up his guitar, writing a little poetry about the situation, then singing his guts out in GarageBand. With every note sang on this record, you would've believed that he recorded each song with the emotion of knowing that he was going to send a copy of each song to the girl he wrote it about. This was the first record I ever heard the term "emo" about (not to be confused with the really crappy bands and cookie-cutter kids that the term is slapped on today). And for good reason too, I believe. This record absolutely drips with heart break. Even today when I listen to "The Best Deception", as lame as it is, it makes me question if you can ever really trust a girl with your heart. Fast forward to the last track of the record "This Bitter Pill" where Carrabba sounds like he is practically crying at the end of the song he is just so dang upset.

"The Shade of Poison Trees" (etcetc)--->Let's talk about disasters shall we? On this and all the following Dashboard records, I feel like Chris is trying way hard to not talk about his high school heart break. I mean, sure, you can call it growing up, but I call it refined. I call it refined and awfully boring compared to his emotion riddled "The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most". And as I stated before, I really do like refined records too. But "The Shade of Poison Trees" (and all the following) just sound soo boring to me. He is like...trying to write these songs that sound smart instead of songs that he is just wailing away at his beat up acoustic guitar and his cracking voice. But all his other songs (aside from "A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar) just feel like these boring ol' songs to me. Refined and very colorless.

The Verdict--->For the love of my youth and in and out of heartbreak states, Chris Carrabba, please go back to wailing on your guitar and voice. It's 3 records in and I still can't get used to this new and refined you. I am happy your life is happy, but you still have to have some sort of teenage-angst left in your bones!!! I don't believe that Chris Carrabba was meant to sing in any other style but singing/crying about some jerk girl that broke his heart.

My Chemical Romance

"Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge" vs "Welcome to the Black Parade"

"Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge"--->The first interview's I read about "Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge", I was almost shocked that Gerard Way said that this record was a concept album about "A character who was killed by gunfire, then makes a deal with the Devil to see his lover again, but first must bring the souls of a thousand men to Hell". To be honest, I think this is just Way being overly pretentious. This record rips right through you with brutal guitar riffs and Way's convicting voice and lyrics, a little short of 40 minutes of sheer energy and intensity. The band clearly holds nothing back on their major label debut, and it shows as it tears through the speakers and your ears and your face. A very obviously unrefined world debut of a good old fashioned guitars, drums, and vocal band. A rock band. And despite what Gerard has said in interviews, there is absolutely no way that his voice quivering and those harsh lyrics can be simple products of a concept album.

"Welcome to the Black Parade"--->I'm not a fan of good bands trying to be super pretentious. At all. I was never a big Green Day fan, but I about threw up when I heard their latest 2 albums. No matter how hard they try to be conceptual and political, Green Day is a punk band. As simple as that. I feel the same about My Chemical Romance. To me, as close-minded as it may sound or may actually be, they are a fast, driving, pissed off punk band. Simple as that. This out of total left field, overly epic album is just another example of a good band trying WAY too hard (i.e. Taking Back Sunday: New Again, Coldplay: Viva La Vida, Fall Out Boy: Folie A Deux). With an overly obvious concept that the band attempts to lace together, it becomes clear why the band did shows for this record under the name "The Black Parade" more than a few times, as opposed to their actual name--because clearly, this record is not the My Chem we all know and love.

The Verdict--->My Chemical Romance needs to stop trying soo hard to be a Queen/Pink Floyd tribute band and just be themselves. Don't get me wrong, "Welcome to the Black Parade" is an epic and musically fantastic album. In a scene that is over-saturated with more and more of the same thing, they did an amazing job with that record to set themselves apart from it all. However though, the intensity and aggressiveness of "Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge" is sorely lacking in this album. Making it a much weaker effort than the prior record.

Unrefined records vs records records
The answer--->From looking at these three artists, and looking at their both refined and unrefined records, I have found one thing for me to be true: I absolutely can not stand it when a band writes an extremely unrefined record, and then follows it up with a refined record.

However, if a band writes a refined record, holding a lot back and being very careful and dynamic with everything, and then follows it up with a brutal, emotional, and intense refined record, I can do that.

But for me honestly, it's all about the first impression of a band. If I hear a band being unrefined/super emotional with a record, that's how I'm going to think of them. But if I hear a band that is super refined in regards to their musicianship, or has the capacity to do both (i.e. Lydia), that's awesome too. While I do not want any of my favorite bands to make the same record twice, I do want them to continue to make records that are consistently better and (if possible) even more refined or unrefined, or a healthy mixture of both, than the ones before them.