Review Summary: Embrace is quite possibly Ian Mackaye's shining moment; no matter how much of a dick he comes off as.
People get the wrong idea about post-hardcore these days. Well, you do if you follow the “scene” or whatever term is being applied to pop-punk/popcore bands like Saosin, From First to Last, Thursday, and Circa Survive. They think its all about those catchy hooks and slightly technical musicianship, with an emphasis on incredibly high pitched vocals. Hell, even looking slightly deeper (Thrice, At the Drive-In, Glassjaw, The Blood Brothers), you don’t deviate farther from that.
Oh, how things have changed since Embrace.
I first listened to Embrace when I was just starting to “get into” hardcore. To be blunt, I didn’t like them. They were abrasive, too loud for their own good, and that singer just sounded like crap. They didn’t even have the guitarwork of legendary frontman Ian Mackaye’s later, arguably as innovative band Fugazi. So, I discarded it, and went back to being a dumbass and listening to tripe like Sparta and From First to Last.
I pretty much sucked as a human being.
A little over a month ago (actually, maybe a little over two, I don’t rightfully remember), I finally decided to try out Embrace again. Take into account that I had reached far more deeply into emo/post-hardcore since my last jabs at listening, and enjoyed similar bands like Ignition, Indian Summer, and Rites of Spring. Thus, I was taken aback when I realized how much this music I was listening to kicked ass. Almost immediately, I realized what a mistake I had made dismissing this album so quickly.
Embrace is one of the most poignant bands I’ve ever listened to.
There’s a lot of political bullshi
t surrounding this album and Ian’s involvement in the hardcore music scene, but its easy enough to say this: Ian didn’t like what his previous legendary band, Minor Threat, had created, and thus he created Embrace as a sort of counter balance to that. Whether or not he was effective with Embrace (the band broke up before the album was released) doesn’t really matter anymore. What matters is the topic I’ve taken far too long to delve into; the scope of the music Embrace made.
Well, it’s not like the scope was that
Not to understate the impact Embrace had. Sort of the natural progression from Minor Threat to Fugazi, Embrace embody raw emotion in music almost to the t (whatever the hell that means). Ian sounds pained, angry, sad, and extremely emotional; he sounds as though he’s about to break down and cry on many of the tracks. While that may seem silly and, well, cliché these days, for a man to do that in the midst of the incredibly ego-centric and “manly” DC hardcore scene was something new and ‘dangerous.’
He decided to attack the ego of the hardcore scene by inflating his own to epic proportions.
Lyrically, Ian was once again experiencing the transition from Minor Threat to Fugazi. He seems to balance the social relevance he would take on with Fugazi and the self-righteous teaching style of his work with Minor Threat quite well here; it’s all incredibly direct and to the point, and most often tackling issues Ian had with the thriving DC hardcore scene. He’ll go from dissecting the violent nature of it, to expounding on how he believes straightedge is the correct “path.”
Obviously Ian’s right, so don’t bother trying to deny it!
In fact, much of what can be criticized with this album is what an arrogant prick Ian Mackaye sounds like. To be perfectly blunt, Ian is a prick. While we would see it later on in his illustrious career, he has extreme views on topics and takes no prisoners with his approach to them. However, all that is balanced out by how honest he is. He doesn’t hide what he has to say at all; if he thinks you’re being a bunch of dumb assholes for expressing yourself with violence, he’ll tell you it straight up. “Said Gun” is the perfect example, as he expounds on his loathing for the antipathy prevalent in the hardcore scene without a single wavering moment, as though he just couldn’t believe there could be an alternate way of thinking…
Yup, it’s just Ian being all arrogant again.
Why? Why are you here?
You're looking for a reason to hate
So you can fuck someone up
You'd hate yourself if you had the chance
I guess you already do
You fuck yourself up
I’m making it seem like all Ian wants to do is rant about the lifestyle he created. He does far more than that; he tackles many human issues such as greed, friendship, and doubt in oneself. In particular, “Last Song” the final song on the album is particularly touching and has a lot to do with the poignancy of the album; a song about the death of someone close to Ian, it isn’t some sappy ballad or dedication. It’s a simple song about how the best way to get through loss is through simple acceptance, and to just take the experiences you’ve gained and continue on
Your demise is a reminder
To the truth that we all face
Nothing is forever
Our efforts can go to waste
But you haven't left me empty
Even if it was just a taste
Your demise is a reminder
To the truth that we all face
Hey, a lot like this album! Wow, how it all ties in…
The band makes the necessary backdrop for Ian’s rantings, however. At heart, they were still just a hardcore band out to make great music, if not anything incredibly original. They create an aggressive sound that never wants to be technical, just fast and moving. The guitarwork occasionally shows flashes of the dual interplay we’d later see in Fugazi, but in general relegates itself to fast, “jagged” hardcore riffs that compliment Ian’s vocals very well. The basswork, while not astounding or really noteworthy by any means, is still solid and there are plenty of bouncy basslines to be had, such as on “Can’t Forgive” or “Do Not Consider Yourself Free.” The drumming? Yeah, not that it truly matters, but the guy can keep a beat and throw in some great fills occasionally.
Hmmm, strange, I didn’t mention any of their names…
I figure what you’re wondering by now is “Man, he sure is talking about Ian Mackaye a lot…its sort of annoying.” Well boys and girls, strap in, because its going to happen some more. Both in Minor Threat and Fugazi, Ian had a counterbalance and another person who could spell him when needed; however, with Embrace being his
project, he seems to have exerted complete control over it, and as such demands most of the attention. The rest of the band does a great job in support, but if you’re expecting to be impressed by anyone but Ian himself, you’re coming into this album with misconceptions.
It’s sort of like seeing an American Pie movie and expecting anyone but Stifler to be entertaining.
All in all, I can find little fault with Embrace
. In fact, I find so little fault that’s its difficult for me to even talk about. To be perfectly blunt (for what, the second or third time in this review?), I cannot convey how special this album is. Its debatable as to whether it “Created” either emo or post-hardcore, but its undoubtedly one of the founding albums for either genre. While it may be a vessel entirely for Ian Mackaye, it’s an incredible vessel, and one of the most essential hardcore albums one can own, right up there with Minor Threats discography and Fugazi’s 13 Songs
Hey, those both have Ian Mackaye in them too, don’t they?
He just might be someone special, one day…one day…
We don't move forward
We distance ourselves from
We justify it with cheap cliches
We're just scared of dying
Words are not enough