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.