Half Moon Bay is a sad town on the Pacific coast on the Peninsula of the Bay Area. Half of the town are rich, affluent, and send their kids to the private schools on the other side of the Crystal Springs Reservoir. The other half are washed out hippies who enjoy surfing. The clash of these two demographics yields an odd group of kids in the town. Rich kids have parties and do drugs, and poor kids have parties and two drugs, all the while never mixing. That's why I was so surprised to hear that an important post-hardcore band, Under a Dying Sun, came from that foggy depressing town. I guess that odd atmosphere and seemingly no possible fan base or scene bred a band that sounded unlike other bands. They took elements of old school emo, post-punk, and odd indie rock to make music that sounded as isolated and gloomy as their nook on the coast.
Now imagine my surprise at reading the San Francisco band Funeral Diner came from Half Moon Bay as well. There's something in that town that spawns bands that are in touch with their own misery. They both have parts that are morose and downplayed, and others that are raging and cacophonous. However, Funeral Diner is a more standard emo band than Under a Dying Sun, who dabbled in multiple genres. By sacrificing the experimentation of a genre tranny, they excel at honing their specific craft. Funeral Diner produces emotional hardcore prolifically and masterfully. I really do mean that. If you go to their [url=http://www.funeraldiner.com]website[/url], you'll notice tons of splits (with Welcome the Plague Year, The Saddest Landscape, etc.), a few EPs, and finally The Underdark
their first LP. while previous work had been heterogeneous and scattered, Funeral Diner wrote this album with the intent to produce a fluid monolith of emotional hardcore. Each song blends into the next and the whole CD runs from start to finish with few flaws.
That is, many flaws. Emo as a genre draws beauty from the moments in music when there are mistakes that spawn from emotional outbursts and artistic frustration. There is an amazing amount of expression in every song. With some bands, this overtly cathartic style wears off after a few songs. With the Funeral Diner, they manage to build up to these moments of breakdown with carefully constructed songs. Their first song, "Decline," is essentially a warm-up CD for the rest of the album. It starts with a simple guitar line that reminds me of a Nine Inch Nails or Tool song (something crazy from the 90s). And of course, they build on this idea. The song picks up and plods along until it reaches the "Collapsing." From here the vocals kick in, and the CD erupts, or collapses I guess. To begin an album with a 4-minute song that only is there to set up the rest of the album is either extremely foolish, or clairvoyant. Funeral Diner wrote this whole CD as one fluid piece, and they use whole tracks as individual devices for building or releasing tension. It's a great sensation to be yanked from high to low so masterfully. Unlike the chaotic screamo bands that are popular in the modern scene, Funeral Diner takes their time setting the mood, before they upset it and throw it all over the place. The soft to loud dynamics are stretch over minutes at a time instead of seconds. A great effect.
The technical aspect of the album isn't impressive, but then again, that's not the point. The instruments are interesting. "Interesting" may be a generic word, but it's true. The harmonic interplay is pretty stable and doesn't mess around too much. they dabble in modal melodies, which changes their flavor a little bit, but in general, when listening to this album, experimentation and technicality is not the linchpin of your enjoyment. It's all in the mood. An aid to this "Half Moon Bay" atmosphere is the production. With emo bands, crappy production and vinyl pressing is the norm. Funeral Diner does a little bit more with this, and it pays off. Echo pedals with a slight modulation on the sound works perfectly for those ambient moments, and a mix of clean tone and distortion works perfectly during the intense parts. The distortion distinguishes the high pitched octave melodies on the guitars and the clean tone adds to the meat of the more background guitar. Often though, these two guitar parts are one in the same and are just employing the same octave technique, giving some cool harmonies. Because octave chords can be moved quickly, Funeral Diner often implies a chord over the chorus of a few beats or a measure while throwing in a bunch of decoration on the guitar, which gives a great sense of power through the emotional crescendos of the music. Great choices overall.
This CD is fluid, beautiful, and engaging the whole way through. It's murky and depressing, but also powerful and brisk. A triumph for modern emo only eclipsed by the epic heights of Circle Takes the Square and the progressive styling of Hot Cross. My only fault to this album is that it's almost too much. It's homogeneous and intense to listen to. I've been on a binge recently, so I figured I'd write my review when I high on it, instead of when I'm depressed and watching the fog come in while driving around in Half Moon Bay.