A veritable musical hotbed, Washington, DC has more to it than politics, corruption and crack. Home to 'the March King' John Philip Sousa, legendary jazz bandleader Duke Ellington and soul diva Robert Flack, among many others, the city has for nearly a century been a centre of musical progress and development. Folk, blues, soul, bluegrass and a hip-hop and funk amalgamate known as 'go go' have for years been voiced and celebrated in the nation's capital. Beyond the mainstream, Washington is recognised as a progressive locale for the development of post-punk and hardcore punk in the 1980s. The city is also renowned as the birthplace of emo (emotional hardcore) in 1985, a more personal, introspective and experimental offshoot of hardcore. Among the pioneers of this new subgenre included hardcore veteran Guy Picciotto and his band Rites of Spring. Though the group only released one full-length album, and recorded only seventeen songs in their two-year career, at the time they were highly respected as founding fathers of their genre. At present, Rites of Spring is regarded as a seminal band in both the hardcore and emo movements.
End on End
is a compilation album consisting of all official recording material Rites of Spring produced. Combining their sole full-length Rites of Spring
with their All Through a Life
EP and one previously unreleased song, End on End
was initially released in 1991 before being remastered ten years later.
On the pinnacle song 'Drink Deep', Picciotto inquires, 'why do I confide, when all I want is release"' summarising in one query the two prime elements of this album. Unburdening of emotions lyrically, build-up and catharsis musically. And these two elements aren't exclusive either. The lyrics are often swell into a fury of anger or repentance or desperation. The music constantly complements these emotions being expressed through the lyrics and persistently heightens the listening experience.
The music is alternately punchy and succinct or more liberal and intense, though both alternatives offer surprisingly strong and inventive bass lines. Both energetically melodic songs like 'All Through a Life' and more chaotic efforts like 'End to End' feature imaginative rhythm parts. Particularly in terms of the rhythm section's tonality, there are noticeable post-punk influences especially from angular groups like Gang of Four. While based on pre-listening descriptions alone a brutal, atonal, over-bearing mess was anticipated, the album is surprisingly melodic and tuneful. Any ventures into more raucous territory is thus used to good effect ' rather than producing an album so anchored in pandemonium that said disorder becomes the standard and loses its effect, here the relative sparsity of build-ups only enhances the experience. Not to say that the record is only rarely intense ' far from it. The lyrics and vocals are relentlessly reinforcing the urgent and volatile subcontext of the band. Picciotto bellows and yelps his soul out, and while his voice often cracks and endlessly has a harsh tone to it, again this increases the emotional bent of the album and makes it a far more therapeutic listen experience.
While songs like 'In Silence/Words Away' and 'All There Is' are easier to listen to because of their catchier edge mostly propelled by the fantastic basslines and guitar riffs, it is the aggressive and emotive anthems like 'Drink Deep' and 'End to End' that make this album so noteworthy. Breaking downbefore building to an orgasmic climax (no kidding ' listen to Picciotto's breathless wailing in the last minute), the song is stunningly powerful and consuming. The album ends with a gasping collapse and likely leaves the listener as winded as the depleted musicians. On equally accomplished 'End to End', the song is insistent and abrasive throughout before collapse upon itself and leaving nothing but a subdued propulsive bassline, self-restricted breathing of Picciotto and diminishing guitar feedback before mounting and burgeoning into a breath-taking culmination of fury, angst, anarchy before finally resulting in aural catharsis minutes later. One of the better songs put to record in a long time.
There aren't many low points. Since the album is particularly intense and entrancing, it can be exhausting just to listen to in one sitting especially on the first listen, and admittedly the forcefulness and emotional pull of the album gets grating after repeated listens.
This album is essential for understanding true emo, but it is also crucial for understanding emo's place in relation punk, hardcore, alternative and indie music. Even if you don't think you 'like' emo, I implore you to give this a thorough listen. You may well dislike it, but at the very least you will have a clear understanding of the style you so baseless dismiss. Upon listening to this, I noticed many parallels to bands I was already familiar with and in some cases quite fond of. The same is likely to happen to you as well. As for fans of the genre, this is recognised as a pinnacle of the first generation of emo, and you'd be amiss to opt out on ownership of this renowned compilation. I am rating it a 5 for the genre ' no emo fan should be without this album, nor should anyone looking to get into the genre. Outside of the genre, it gets a solid 4. An intense yet ultimately enjoyable and enlightening listen. As such, the overall rating falls in between at 4.5/5. Give it a try and you might be surprised ' I know I was.