[14 November 2010]
How many times have I found Envy categorized under “post-rock” or some more ambient derivative (should any truly exist)? When I was in college, I listened to post-hardcore. Not exclusively, but still quite a bit. I also listened to electronica: IDM, ambient; regular outfits like Future Sound of London, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and Venetian Snares. For harder, more guitar-based music, I listened to myriad bands, all of which screamed, chugged through power chords, cited lost loves as world-enders, and droned and whined on through chorus after bleary chorus. I loved it. It was what black metal is to some people today: somewhat hip in some circles (maybe not Pitchfork’s), and enjoyable, inaccessible to people who didn’t like Blue Velvet, soft-strummed-to-distorted-riffs, straight-edge melancholia, black eye-liner, gauged ears, and hoodies.
Who are Envy?
Envy are Japanese post-hardcore.
Are they Unwound?
Are they At the Drive-In?
Have they really eked from emo to post-rock like Appleseed Cast or Planes Mistaken For Stars?
What about post-metal—think Isis?
No, no, no.
Then what about Boris? Or Toe? Those guys are Japanese, and they dabble in instrumental epic rock…
Envy are, as they were on their 2003 Level Plane release, a simple, and I emphasize simple, amalgamation of two bereft genres: traditional screamo (called “skramz” in the underground) and post-rock (think strictly Explosions In The Sky, not Bark Psychosis). They’ve had two successfully diverse releases, and each has been on behalf of another artist’s contribution: First, we were given Envy / Jesu in the summer of 2008, which coupled the group’s dim “build-break-repeat a single note for bars-repeat” ethos with Justin Broadrick’s brilliant post-metal metallics. Paired together, this was good. It still is. Soon after, in late 2008, legendary post-hardcore purists Thursday met Envy for two sides, seven tracks of plodding Boss-pedal ambiance, climaxing through screams screamed in two languages, chanted sometimes in others, and broken down with effectively emotional drum work. All the while, it was a joint effort—it took the pairs to make the whole, to give the listener an honest split with enough heartfelt diversity so that neither artist became mired. But this point, sometimes drastically, is ruined on Envy’s solo work. On Recitation, it becomes clear, the same as it ever was—formulaic.
Many of Envy’s albums are well-received in publications and on blogs where the band is deemed, or assumed, “intelligent” because of its post-hardcore/post-rock/screamo polyamory. Look deeper. It’s never more, on any given track on Recitation, than a melodic cue taken from Sigur Ros’ Takk and an angst-y cue taken from, well, pick any mid-2000s mall screamer. Let’s say the rarely referenced Greeley Estates, only rougher, given a Wu-Tang sort of gravel pit grit.
With all this heavy criticism, I can’t help but conclude with a nod toward the positive. What is it? Progression. There must be some logical progression from All the Footprints You’ve Ever Left and the Fear Expecting Ahead to Recitation. Those fans who got angry in 2001 (or prior, if you’ll count their lesser-knowns) aren’t so angry anymore. You’ve got half of it: The kids want a way to chill out. There are only so many drywall room walls to punch. Only so many Pontiac Sunfires to burn out. Linkin Park probably got the best of them after 9/11. But to truly chill out, one must go completely sublime. Think The Field. Minimal techno. Whatever will follow dubstep. Envy, those splits you did were wonderful. There must be some frontier which you can blaze. Some new cross-genre hipster crossroad. Find it. Tell us about it in Japanese.