Sunday, August 29, 2010

Spoken Word Hardcore

Every few months I become absolutely obsessed with some sort of music, whether it is a band, a genre or just a country of origin (my Swedish obsession still kicks back in occassionally). My last big musical obsession was twee, given the awesomeness of the new Los Campesinos album and my rediscovering Bis. My newest obsession is a bit of a backflip, and not really a genre or anything at all. In fact I don't even know what to call it. In my head I have dubbed it Spoken Word Hardcore.

So how to describe it? It's obviously hardcore music, but at the same time it's not. Some of the bands I've grouped into this category have hardcore instrumentals, but almost completely spoken word lyrics (shouted a lot mind you). On the other end there are the almost indie/post-rock/mathrock clean instrumentals with half-shouted hardcore style vocals. Confused? Yeah, I can imagine so. So here's my quick run down of bands that I've been listening to as part of my obsession with this made up genre. I've hidden links to songs, free mp3s, websites, videos throughout all of the text.

Bradley Hathaway
The reason I am in this kick probably goes back to one starting point: Bradley Hathaway. It's not even music, it's poetry. I bought his first book a few months back and I have been slowly reading it while listening to the accompanying CD. It's basically a hardcore (if not uber-Christian) style of poetry. Hell, his book is riddled with testimonials from guys in hardcore bands (The Chariot/Norma Jean/etc). His delivery style is a shouted kind like old school beat-poets and his subject matter touches people in the hardcore scene. Especially the poem/track The Annoying Hardcore Dude That Goes Too Far. Anyone that goes to any heavy shows knows this guy that he is talking about.

Minor Threat & Fugazi
Every genre has a starting point, and in my made up sub-genre it would be Minor Threat, although most people would say they were the starting point to most of hardcore music in general. Their songs were short and fast, with a lot of the lyrics seeming to be quick half spoken/half shouted. They couldn't really sing to keep up with the speed of their guitars. After the short-lived Minor Threat broke up, Fugazi formed from the ashes. Although not as hardcore as Minor Threat, Fugazi slowed things down with more song structure and songs that bordered on indie releases. However, the vocals are still sung in an almost spoken way.

I'm going to go through the bands starting at the clean end and working towards the heavy end.

Bordering on the instrumental and folk side of things, mewithoutYou is a band that is hard to categorise. Some of their songs are lovely little folk-acoustic pieces, while some of their songs build up to a loud and distorted crescendo. Over the top of all of this though is Aaron's vocals, an interesting blend of spoken word and hardcore shouting. This band works as hard as any hardcore band I have ever seen and leaves nothing behind when they take the stage. The best example of mewithoutYou is their album Brother Sister, which can turn on a dime from quiet to loud.

Here's a video I recorded of them from my last trip to the USA.

La Dispute
Apart from Mr Hathaway, this band is the other reason that I am on this kick. After being told a million times to listen to them, I finally got around to it. Their sound is unique: indie guitars at times, with beautiful clean melodies and some basic singing and speaking over the top. Then they hit the distortion and the vocals ramp up and become rough and almost screamed. The lyrics are also quite poetic. Their new release is a split EP with Touche Amore and it's slightly heavier than their last album Somewhere At The Bottom Of The River Between Vega And Altair.

Blacklisted sit nicely in the middle of all of the bands. The instrumentation is much heavier and more hardcore like than the earlier bands, but the vocals are still almost spoken. Well, audibly shouted is probably a better description. Last year they put out an album entitled No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me, which I unfortunately did not hear until earlier this year, otherwise it would have easily made my top 10.

End of a Year
Very similar to Blacklisted actually, I only discovered this band a few minutes before writing this article. The guitars and music is a bit more on the hardcore punk side than the other bands.

At this point it gets more difficult, because at it's core, isn't hardcore music, especially punk, generally of this style? The gruff shouted vocals don't lend themselves well to singing, so a lot of times bands sound like they are almost speaking their lyrics instead of singing them. So on the heavier side, with shouted vocals, I kind of place these bands in the list too:

Pissed Jeans (a hardcore band on Sub Pop Records?! You know it's going to be good)
Almost Home (thanks Clus)
and Melbourne's own Carpathian. If you ignore their early stuff with Crafter on vocals.

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