In short, Essentials is an ongoing series that provides artists the opportunity to discuss a specific topic while giving their fan base a chance to connect with their various interests and inspirations. But in this case, we are totally okay with things getting weird and uncensored. With their debut being an unnerving force that sits somewhere between Wildlife and Love Is Love/Return To Dust (see “Hardly Art”), we got New York trio CLOSER to discuss their fave alt/hardcore albums. Warning: the nostalgia is deafening.
System Of A Down’s Toxicity (2001)
Matt Van Asselt: Toxicity was a pretty unique record and one that fully holds up today, so not giving a nod to System Of A Down would frankly be dishonest. It’s one most of us have heard before, so let’s take a moment to appreciate it: “All research and successful drug policy shows that treatment should be increased and law enforcement decreased while abolishing mandatory minimum sentences”. This is the refrain that kids ages 10 and up were singing to themselves around country, if not the world. I mean this was mainstream. We’re talking you’re in sixth grade and the Internet is barely a thing.
Toxicity just came at a crucial time. Not that tastes can’t change from middle school, but to hear a record like this when you’re just beginning to get into listening to music, playing music, and feeling like you’re a real person who can define yourself? And right after 9/11 too. So many kids, or at least those of us who were growing up in New York, were being forced to confront the violence of the world in a real way for the first time. It was the perfect record, and in a lot of ways it still is.
Circle Takes The Square’s As The Roots Undo (2004)
Matt: There are plenty of great screamo records, but frankly, a lot of them sound similar to each other. As The Roots Undo is a true standout and on top of that, it was the first “screamo” record I ever heard. In the ninth or tenth grade, I was in the school auditorium before some assembly and sitting next to Griffin [bassist] who had his iPod. He told me “You gotta hear this” and played me “Kill The Switch”.
It’s completely wild — chaotic, raw, emotional, and following 10 different threads at once. It’s thrilling to hear them round every corner and yet there’s something so intuitive and pleasing about it, too. Then the end of the song comes around: “I know it’s all been done before/ I want to do it again, I want to do it again”. Something about that line was like, “Yeah, I want to do this. I know it’s been done before, I want to do it again”.
Bear vs. Shark’s Terrorhawk (2005)
Ryann Slauson: As a high schooler, I found a portion of my favorite music through the patches sewn onto the backpacks of my crushes or through band t-shirts in photo spreads of SPIN.
In 2005, I was visiting my partner at the time who lived in Maine and I was trying to finish a video project for a college art class in the basement of a friend’s house — side note: it was a shoddy music video for “Pattern Against User” by At The Drive-In. That friend was wearing a black Bear vs. Shark t-shirt and one he would eventually give to my partner as a gift. A year later, we went through a traumatic breakup and one day I was mindlessly browsing through CDs at a Barnes & Noble and saw Terrorhawk. I bought it partially out of spite, but also out of nostalgia and heartache.
I latched onto the album instantly. Terrorhawk has nuanced, frantic, and seemingly endless energy, layers of subtle detail, and strange and cryptic lyrics without pretension or posturing. “Age is on you and it’s no one but you” and “I want to be a light you wear around your wrist” — Marc Paffi is one of my favorite vocalists as he has depth, range, and an emotional impact that feels so personal and purposeful. He can erupt into an unexpectedly, full-throated yell in any moment and then return back with ease, which helps make this collection of songs remarkable.
mewithoutYou’s [A->B] Life (2002)
Ryann: I played drums in a ska band my first year of college and we had a show at a record shop in Orlando where I saw a kid wearing a mewithoutYou shirt. I thought the name sounded cool so I went home and downloaded some random songs from LimeWire, and burned them to a CD-R which instantly lived in my Discman. This was my introduction to what became one of my favorite bands and like Bear vs. Shark, who typically fall under post-hardcore, mewithoutYou felt like a band channeling an endless range of sounds and influences into an unnameable classification.
Rickie Mazzotta’s incredibly powerful and melodic drumming is a distinctive style I have been trying to comprehend and emulate for the last 14 years. And of course, the same goes for Aaron Weiss whose poetics and delivery still make me cry after hundreds of listens. I don’t connect to the loosely religious themes of Weiss’ lyrics but I am completely enamored with his collages of emptiness, longing, and frustration. This album just feels overwhelmingly born from a realm of despair, but somewhere buried in the pain is a sense of hope. Or more fittingly, acceptance and embrace of the unknown.
Catharsis’ Passion (1999)
Griffin Irvine: A record that totally changed my perception of what heavy music could be was Passion. It was given to me as a burnt CD when I still had dial-up Internet and was buying records by mail order off of Interpunk and Revelation Records. The pure emotion of Brian D’s vocals — that throat-shredding tone that communicated every word — was screamed sincerely and combined with lyrics that hold up as well as they did when I was 14. The impeccable and memorable musicianship, and Alexei Rodriguez’s perfect drumming — every song was a surprise and all of my musical expectations were bucked.
Passion also introduced me to the aesthetic of merging politics with sound. It was the first place that I ever heard the word “Panopticon” and well before [Michel] Foucault became the hackneyed butt of Internet jokes. It brought the tradition of political anarchism in avant-garde art to my attention, and not to mention its littering of references to other sources that would be future inspirations to me — most notably Godspeed You! Black Emperor. One track in particular, “Witch’s Heart,” is a song about a friend changing for the worse — trading in their idealism and sharp critique for the creature comforts of security and belief in the political and ideological status quo.
I related to it as a friend who I used to listen to Catharsis with in his bedroom in upstate New York — between riding our bikes to Trash American Style and generally doing punk teenager shit — gave up on everything he believed in a number of years later. He gave up on veganism and being straight edge, and he walked away from his entire critique of American society in favour of complicity as a member of the Marine corps and the things he had explicitly hated. When this happened, “Witch’s Heart” had become real to me. Its emotional valency all the stronger, and its sense of loss concertized in my own experience. We tried to remain friends, but we were separated by a gulf of ideological difference — not to mention his own desire to forget what he had fled.
The record still holds a flame to any contemporary record. If you have never heard it, then I envy the opportunity you have to fall into this album for the first time and experience it — have it wash over you and change you sonically, emotionally, and intellectually in the same way it did to me. It might not be that for you, but it is and probably was the most important record for me — one that changed my aesthetic sensibilities and intellectual direction forever.