[26 October 2005]
Few words have caused as much love, hate, and confusion as emo. This review won’t attempt to trace the term’s rich and confusing history. For that, there are innumerable websites, as well as a detailed yet tongue-in-cheek entry at wikipedia.org.
Suffice it to say that “emo” is short for “emocore”, short for the “emotional hardcore” of mid-‘80s Dischord bands like Rites of Spring and Embrace. But through time and music industry homogenization, the emo of today sounds far different from its hardcore punk roots. There’s a certain sound now that’s marketed as emo, and through enough exposure, you’ll know it if you hear it.
Silverstein fits comfortably within the confines of emo, specifically the subgenre known as screamo—emotional rock with screaming. This isn’t as bad as it looks. In fact, Silverstein is one of the most melodic bands you’ll ever hear. In 2003, the Ontario, Canada-based group released its first full-length, When Broken Is Easily Fixed. The album mixed clean singing and pop chord progressions with heavier guitar tones, the occasional metal riff, and, yes, bouts of screaming. Talented vocalist Shane Told handled both singing and screaming, often in the space of a single verse. Kids ate up the angst-filled lyrics about relationships, with some even getting tattoos of the album’s cover, a robot holding its heart in its hand.
Discovering the Waterfront follows the same formula, but with catchier songwriting and luscious production. The guitar tones are nicely varied, and the rhythm section is tight. Told’s vocals are in fine form, and, for the most part, he’s singing, only resorting to screaming to emphasize darker lyrics. The effectiveness of this is debatable. On one hand, the screaming does add a little extra oomph. On the other hand, it’s not really necessary. In fact, the lyrics could come across even darker with a sunny delivery. But Silverstein isn’t about irony or subtlety. If it weren’t for the screaming, nearly all of the songs here could be Top 40 hits; they’re that melodic and catchy (“Smile in Your Sleep” is particularly hooky). Even the metallic riffs are simply aggressive articulations of standard pop chord progressions. These are pop songs through and through.
In emo-ness and heaviness, Silverstein represents a middle ground between Jimmy Eat World and Killswitch Engage. And if those references escape you, don’t worry, the chord progressions, melodies, and vocal tones here drip with demographic information. You’ll know within seconds if this album is for you, with lyrics like:
My fingers are yours to cut off / and my bones are yours to shatter in pieces / my teeth are yours to pull out / and my soul is yours to slowly rip apart
Told says, “I get e-mails all the time that are just like ’ I f***in’ love you, your words helped me through this hard time, you’re so easy to relate to, I understand what you’re saying.’ Then I get these reviewers who are, like, thirty (years old) that just don’t get it.” For those above a certain age, this album will be a guilty pleasure. But for others, it will be the soundtrack to first loves, live journal entries, and long nights on myspace.com.