Review Summary: Not a benchmark of the genre, but perhaps a hidden gem.
I’m pretty confident he is most unaware of this fact, perhaps even blissfully unaware, but the black/Jewish actor Yaphet Kotto has two connections to the music world. While he may himself be both a writer and an actor he has received two homage’s that I know of; Firstly seminal hip hop band The Roots name drop him a couple of times across their discography, but more importantly for this review he shares his name with a bay area emotive hardcore band. They type of band which emo fans throughout the World Wide Web would most un-eloquently refer to as “epic scramzz”. To elaborate, modern emotional hardcore can essentially be split into two stereotypical forms. On the one hand you have those in it purely for the thrash; the likes of Orchid and Pageninetynine do this perfectly. They are bands of dissonance and intensity, when you listen to them your ears receive a severe beating but come out feeling like you have been through an almost enlightening ordeal. Contrasting to that there are the bands from the City of Caterpillar school of thought. They take the moments of blistering power found in the aforementioned bands, but mix that with moments of beauty, frequently delving into a indie rock/post rock style which is often akin to an under produced Explosions in the Sky or This Will Destroy You. Alongside Frodus, Envy and Funeral Diner, Yaphet Kotto walk the latter path for their band. For a perhaps more familiar comparison think Cryonics era-Hot Cross but with only a trace of their more mainstream rock tendencies and an awful lot less defined musically.
Yaphet Kotto are just a really great emo band to put it simply, what they lack in originality they make up for in the undeniable passion they have. Their songs are constructed superbly and have excellent flow to them, nothing sounds forced, nothing sound out of place or contrived. The band moves swiftly, with most songs clocking in at under the four minute mark, however every song is dripping with enough intriguing moments for songs twice that length and what lesser bands take eight minutes to accomplish Yaphet Kotto rack up in three and a half. Everything you would expect from a band of this style is present, they have the beautiful passages, the epic build up’s and as always the chaotic finales. Their music is crafted with a real sense of urgency which is mirrored by the band’s lyrical content, dilvered impeccably from start to finish with a furious two man onslaught. As is the predominant style, it is all written in cryptic messages, not overtly political but definitely with an undertone of social commentary. Take the lyrics from the title track for example, “We hear them every day, they talk to us, they haunt us, they beg us for meaning, conscience, it's just the voices of the dead trying to save us from our own damnation.” An attack perhaps on all the senseless violence in the world? I guess it’s open to interpretation.
If Hot Cross and Circle Takes the Square are the glamorous, accessible and more engaging acts of the genre then Yaphet Kotto are the real heart of it, they are rougher round the edges, more homogenous and indistinguishable in their writing and ultimately I guess they are inferior to the spectacular heights of those two pioneers. Yet there is certainly something endearing here. It is a warmth, perhaps, that keeps clawing at you. There is something special in this album which is difficult to really pin down but exists in the minds of all that here it. Like Gospel, they are an exclusive secret of the emo community. Loved by fanatics of the genre and completely ignored by the mainstream at large and while it may be silly to think about, everyone loves to have a band to call their own. When I was younger that band was Alkaline Trio and then later it was Thursday however having realised it was only my musically illiterate friends who were ignorant of those bands a space may be opening up for “We Bury Our Dead Alive” by Yaphet Kotto.
Maybe the famous Actor wouldn’t be so taken aback after all.