Saturday, August 28, 2010

EMBRACE - LP (Dischord/1986)
I was shelving a few boxes of old fanzines just last week, trying to make some sort of order of the hundreds of publications cluttering up the spare room (I gave up after 20 minutes), when I stumbled across a November 1991 issue of none other than Option magazine w/ Fugazi on the cover. I was never a regular reader of the mag - it was way too steeped in some sort of deeply compromised sense of mid-level, semi-pro "musical journalism" and collegiate sensibilities for my tastes, and only own about three or four issues - but Fugazi being a big-deal band for me at the time, it wasn't something to pass up. Left on the top of a pile, I was browsing through it the other day, smirking at the endless pages of ads for various shades and stripes of major-label alt-rock failures who appear to've made zero dent in the collective conscience, and suddenly felt the urge to stick Embrace's sole LP on the turntable. To be honest, this is an album I've only owned for 6 months. Bought on a whim and in the thick of some sort of peculiar Fugazi revival happening in my whereabouts (my house), I was feeling nostalgic and took the plunge. The first listen all the way through, I was struck by two thoughts: 1) firstly, that I somehow knew every single song as it played through, which had me thinking I once owned this record in the past (I think the answer to that question is that I had a taped copy given to me by someone roughly 20-odd years back); and 2) that it remains one hell of an impressive rock 'n' roll album, regardless of whatever kind of context you wrap it in. By contextually, I mean that it's often considered a worthy stop-gap release by Ian McKaye whilst in between two much more successful and influential bands, yet a footnote band by the historians. And when I say "rock 'n' roll", I mean exactly that. Musically, this bears very little resemblance to any other band MacKaye played in. Featuring 3/5s of the "legendary" DC band Faith, who featured Ian's younger brother Alec on vocals and released half of what what many young hipster is convinced to be Dischord's best ever record, the Faith/Void split LP, Embrace is a pretty odd proposition for a line-up. The band dropped the more frenetic tendencies of Faith and laid down, at least 90% of the time, a mid-tempo rock sound which is kinda hard to pin down. I've read on several occasions that the big influence on the band was an English group I have never in my life heard of: Empire - a hard rock band who apparently comprised of ex members of Generation X(!!). If anyone can throw me a link to any of their sounds (I'm assuming anything they released is well out of print), it'd be appreciated. I can't vouch for Empire, but for me the music is caught in a strange netherworld between Angloid post-punk (Siouxsie & the Banshees, Magazine) and the no-frills hard-rock arrangements and "heaviness" of AC/DC. Which doesn't mean to imply that this sounds absolutely anything like AC/DC, but the basic nature of the music - no fancy fills, a rock-steady beat and few embellishments cluttering up the stark nature of the music - isn't too far from AC/DC's basic modus operandi (and failing that, I've just drawn my longest bow yet). The lyrical matter is so personal, confronting and accusing that you feel like you're getting a dressing down just listening to it; some of it goes so overboard, such as on the excellent "I Wish I", that it borders on sounding like an Ian MacKaye parody album. If a friend of mine played in a band like Embrace, I'd probably have a chuckle and tell him to tone his act down a touch, but w/ the painfully earnest MacKaye at the helm, it's pulled off to great effect. Snicker if you will - I know there are those who peruse this blog who figure MacKaye to be an A-grade jerk-off responsible for fronting one of the most boring, straight-laced attempts at rock music this side of U2 (they're wrong) - but I find Embrace pretty hard to fault. Every song delivers, the songs and the words. Guitarist Mike Hampton rips out some wildly inventive hooks, the rhythm section is rock solid, nothing flash yet perfectly complements the melodies, and MacKaye's wailings are incredibly effective. Fact is, this is a brilliantly consistent album, every song telling a story and musically nailing it track by track. If you need something a little less mannered in its approach, I'd say head straight for the similarly impressive Rites Of Spring LP (a really big-deal disc for me in high school) from the same period. Surely I don't have to state the connection, so I won't. A lot of folks still make a noise over ROS and I don't hear 'em singing similar praise for Embrace. They oughta. Goddamn essential.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Dave - though I don't think I've ever heard this one. Now EGG HUNT, I remember very well . . .

Anonymous said...

The Empire re-release is available at CDBaby [http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/Empire4] and probably elsewhere also. I bought the CD but haven't had a chance to spin it yet, so I can neither confirm nor deny its legendary powers.

Dave said...

Thanks for the link! The Jack Rabid piece on that page tells their story, too.

Empire Hancock said...

This was a great little read. I love the Embrace album. I could take or leave the Faith/Void record, to be honest. Aside from Minor Threat and Embrace, my favorite thing Dischord ever put out is probably "Dark Days Coming" by 3. THERE'S a record that NOBODY talks about, which is just criminal.

Dave said...

I can't go past the Minor Threat and Fugazi albums - they're pretty much imprinted in my brain at this point - but I will absolutely vouch for 3's album... and I'm pretty sure I HAVE written about it before here, and if not, a write-up is long overdue. It is indeed a criminally overlooked mini-masterpiece which just about no one seems to know about, let alone discuss.

Heve Stughes said...

That 3 album is fantastic, probably in my top 5 Dischord releases or something. It's like the perfect intermediate between the hardcore/early post-hardcore phase of the label and the increasingly mindnumbing college rock bullshit that proceeds it.

Dave said...

I've barely checked out anything Dischord has released after 1991. For me, the final straws were the albums by Jawbox and the Holy Rollers which I bought at the time and sold soon thereafter. Still, I've got a mountain of respect for the label, and I've (belatedly) been listening to LUNGFISH recently, a band friends of mine think are one of the greatest of the last 20 years but whom I'd never even heard until 3-4 months ago, and I gotta say, I dig 'em quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

As much as the Rites of Spring record gets all the attention devoted to DC's revolution summer scene (by the way, I LOVE that record), I think the Embrace record is slightly more consistent. Songs like "Past", "Money", "I Wish I", "Said Gun", "Give me Back" or the soaring "No More Pain" are just among the best tunes MacKaye has ever sung.
In fact, besides Minor Threat's Out of Step- quite possibly the best Hardcore Punk record ever- and S/T comp- ditto for this (whoever says Minor Threat is overrated is full of shit)- and Fugazi's 13 songs and Repeater, the Embrace's record is my fave choice from the baldie.
I do agree with the sorta praise given to the Three's record (I REALLY dig the Beatle-ish Punk Rocker "Buy me a river" and a couple more); great record all the way.

Dave said...

3's Dark Days Coming is finally being reissued on LP/CD this month on Dischord.

Empire Hancock said...

Good to know the 3 album is coming back in print. I assume it will be remastered (Dischord did a handful of remasters a few years ago, including Minor Threat, Rites of Spring and Embrace and I'm sure some others I don't recall or wasn't aware of... also, no idea how they stack up against the original cd issues.)

I actually only bought "Dark Days Coming" on cd about a year ago (and I think I got a used copy on Amazon for like $4, though some sellers there and on eBay have it priced at far more ridiculous dollar amounts)! A friend taped it for me not that long after it first came out on cd, I want to say around '97 or '98, then later I got a cassette in it in a ridiculous lot of tapes from some dude on eBay, wherein I think I got like 40 tapes for $9 or something stupid. For some strange reason, I never bothered to get the cd myself. I don't think it actually stayed back in print that long. No Idea had it in their mail order catalog for years and, in fact, that's where I tried to order it from only to find they didn't actually have any in stock.

Danny Dischord said...

Brothers....you KNOW I used to love the Dischord sound. But these days I am feeling (literally!) the Gayrilla Biscuits and Youth of Togay...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrc_Qy1ZX3A

http://www.myspace.com/gayrillabiscuits