One of my worst habits is assigning way too much meaning to the menial. This excessive enthusiasm is pretty much endemic when it comes to cultural criticism – any piece of art you enjoy suddenly has deep political meaning and single handedly redefines everything around it, even if that makes no real sense. As the personal and political get even more inseparably blurred this tendency in the wider music press has seemingly accelerated – fun pop songs made by rich people are suddenly representative of something larger and whatever (or even just if) you choose to stream supposedly mirrors your personal values. I’ve been stuck grappling with this train of thought in the time since I stopped writing regularly on this website – if a cigar is infamously sometimes just a cigar, what makes a cool guitar riff any different? Is there any way to cover interesting tunes without it inevitably devolving into weird personal rants? I’m yet to work out any clear answers to this question but have instead spent my time listening to tacky (scr)emo records, which is arguably a fair bit cooler depending on who you ask.
the bones of something great between impotent shouts into the void
‘Discography’ by I Wrote Haikus About Cannibalism In Your Yearbook is not a clearly defined record and perhaps I should keep it that way. The band seemingly formed in 2004, releasing two sets of demos during their brief existence and then bailing by 2007. This record was seemingly compiled following their disbandment in 2010, causing confusion due to the limited information available on the group. There’s an impressively niche debate ongoing over what counts as the “official” title or tracklist of this record, with this uncertainty being aided by the band’s choice to keep all their material untitled. I’m not sure whether I’m listening to the correctly tagged rip of this record and there’s something oddly beautiful about that – with the whole thing harking back to an era defined by endlessly 404ing Blogspot links at a time where three streaming platforms hold supreme control over what we hear. On some level it feels a bit weird to try researching any information behind this album, almost as if working out whether the glitches on some tracks are the result of a bad encode would kill half the appeal. I don’t know a lot about this album, which is probably the main reason why I obsessed over it so hard.
This record (and a majority of the skramz scene by extension) is defined by disjointedness – half-riffs fly past the listener as the bones of something great presents itself between impotent shouts into the void. In general most screamo bands fall apart the second they give you time to think, with their work shining once the edgy and fairly naff nature of their lyrics gets papered over by pure speed. Proper skramz should sound like creative destruction, promptly disassembling emotion in a way that’ll blow out your speakers. ‘Discography’ perfectly captures the scattershot nature of this genre, with riffs rapidly being recycled and ideas being cut seconds before they could turn stale. On some level this urgency is aided by how utterly lo-fi the record is – what remains unheard and inaudible in these glorified mobile phone recordings feels equally important as what can be deciphered. In the same way that Brian Eno claimed “the blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it”, this album consists of emotions so utterly melodramatic that they escape the crap compression of low-res MP3s.
For better or for worse ‘Untitled 5′ serves as the perfect distillation of the ethos behind emo, if anything just because it’s under a minute in length and barely discernible. When I initially stumbled upon the group back in 2017 I found it hard to listen to anything beyond this one track, looping it over and over until my interest in the genre faded. To use an extremely lame metaphor, this track feels like a tool-assisted speedrun of sad guitar music – no-clipping out of the cringy bounds of the genre while perfectly teetering on the verge of discordance. This sense of balance is mirrored by the lyrical content of the track, which somehow manages to remain edgy while forgoing the wince-inducing excess typically associated with this kind of music. “You call this a moment? I call it religion and spit on the ground […] Fuck potential! Hardcore must remain kinetic, it’s time to fucking evolve”. It’s vague as hell but sounds fairly cool, which is arguably all you want out of knotty guitar tunes.
pile! no pile! pile!
If ‘Discography’ escaped cringiness through speed, ‘Just Got Back From the Discomfort—We’re Alright’ actively embraces it through self-awareness. This 2010 record from The Brave Little Abacus has gained a cult following over the past while, placing sixth on RateYourMusic’s chart for the year on account of its utterly sincere attempt to combine Midwestern emo with synths and sitcom samples. The album builds itself around the divisive vocal presence of Adam Demirjian, with the instrumentation being structured around his atonal rambles and unfeigned observations. It’d be an understatement to refer to this record as one that intermittently clicks into place, tracks often wander around before suddenly cohering into something larger, helping create an experience that’s simultaneously shambolic yet alluring. What the band lacks in terms of technical proficiency is made up for through sheer vigour – it feels as if they’re knowingly creating the ultimate piece of naive art as they semi-ironically sample ‘Malcolm in the Middle’, punching far above their weight in the process.
One of the most fascinating parts of Demirjian’s performances is how oddly cognisant they seem. The musician often breaks into what RYM user JGar40 aptly described as *”meta-narration”,* temporarily breaking beyond the fourth wall in an oddly genuine way as they pour their heart out. These attempts to play around with the limitations of the genre help further reinforce this idea of self-awareness – almost as if he’s acknowledging that his emotions are the result of dumb teen bullshit while still remaining immersed in them. Whenever I talk about this band I often just end up rambling about this weird sense of self-actualization they evoke, almost as if the group have opted to stake an extremely specific claim and then embody it perfectly. ‘Just Got Back from the Discomfort’ is not a record that works in a lot of contexts, but one that can cut deep once you enter the right frame of mind.
The penultimate track ‘Bug-Infested Floorboards—Can We Please Just Leave This Place, Now’ is one that blew my mind four years ago, if anything just because of how utterly raw it feels. Demirjian uses the experience of cleaning out a friend’s house as a launching pad to talk about moving beyond the emotions that fueled the record, with the musician essentially just going mental over maximalist production as the track constantly shifts form. Something that makes this track so fascinating is how effortlessly it straddles the line between wallowing in melodramatic sadness and almost taking the piss out of it – the vocalist somehow manages to pull off a call and response with Dewey from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ without it seeming out of place, a fact that still eludes me to this day. The Brave Little Abacus are such an insane band as almost everything they do mirrors an oddly complete earnestness, with any eccentricities and imperfections somehow reinforcing how authentic their work feels. This band can somehow get away with anything, which is quite useful when you consider how annoying some people find their vocals on first listen.
chop chop, goodbye
I guess this brings us back to my initial tangent about assigning arbitrary meaning to tunes. In the crudest of terms it feels as if this endless pandemic has warped my sense of time – whatever attempts I’ve made to grow as a person prior to 2020 have been indefinitely put on hold and nothing I’ve experienced since has felt like an actual event. This weird sense of unreality was felt most blatantly when sitting the Leaving Cert, what was initially presented as this major rite of passage (and source of dread) quickly passed me by as an abstract series of tasks in my to-do list app and awkward conversations over the phone with relatives. The overblown dramatics and dumb teen bullshit that should have defined my last 477 days have been swapped out for the jankiness of Zoom socials and the odd sense of stasis induced by writing the same few paragraphs about music while sat behind my laptop screen. I’m doing the same things I judged myself for prior to the pandemic, I’m just now doing them in a weird state of kidulthood. A while back I joked that “a lot of the best records from this scene are great just as they feel like friends fucking around the summer prior to cutting all ties and never speaking again” – it sometimes feels like I ascribe so much meaning to them just because people my age are living out infinitely lamer versions of this experience. These bands got scene cred upon going their separate directions, we’ll be lucky just to get left on read.
Something that often gets omitted from coverage on either band is how young they were when they initially rose to notoriety – Brave Little Abacus were just barely after finishing high school when ‘Just Got Back from the Discomfort’ was recorded, a fact that now fills me with dread. As a deeply misanthropic fourteen year old this lore surrounding the group was oddly alluring, if anything just as it reinforced my immature daydreams of making dumb art with equally pretentious friends and somehow escaping town. I’m now sat here a full four years on, having spent roughly fifteen hours trying to compose this piece and solely staying awake in order to awkwardly conclude it. For better or for worse when writing these posts I feel like the musical equivalent of a full kit wanker, waiting by the terraces to be magically subbed into extremely edgy bands that split over a decade ago. The cynical part of my thought process is convinced that these bands mean so much to me this summer solely as this is the last one where listening to either doesn’t feel like a red flag. Perhaps next year I’ll pick up something more adult like golf or post-hardcore. The blog posts might flow a little bit easier then.