To quote the bard Brian Posehn: Words are funny. Take the rock subculture commonly known as emo, or Emo, if you want to get your high-waters all in a bunch about it. Ultimately, the demarcation is an important one: those that would capitalize the word or claim to be modern practitioners were almost to a one not in attendance at the onset of the genre, a fact offset in striking contrast by those who were and prefer the term not be used at all to describe their work. Simple, huh?
Semantics aside, the musical ripples put forth by DC punk bands like Embrace and Rites of Spring that fostered the Revolution Summer of 1985 and by extension begat Emo had effects beyond the District city limits. Notable groundbreaking bands like Baltimore, MD stalwarts Lungfish come to mind. Similarly cut from that same thrift store cloth was Annapolis quintet Moss Icon. The foursome saw fit to mix the spacious dynamism of Slint with the jagged angularity of Rites of Spring, ultimately laying significant brick and mortar to the foundation for what became known as emo.
Like their DC predecessors, Moss Icon burned bright and faded as quickly. The quintet formed when the band members were only in their early teens, releasing only a demo and two seven-inch releases in the varying periods of activity between their inception in late 1986 and 1991 dissolution. The scant eleven tracks that comprise their canon as an active band comprise a virtual road map for the angular indie rock evolution of same that exploded in the Midwest a mere five years later. A third seven-inch entitled Memorial was released posthumously in 1991, as were tracks recorded for a split LP with Bay Area band Silver Bearing. Vermiform Records released the full-length Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly in 1994, featuring tracks recorded in 1988. The same year also saw Ebullition paying tribute by releasing It Disappears, compiling the last seven-inch and live tracks.
Guitarist Tonie Joy maintained the highest profile post-Moss Icon, tenuring in Universal Order of Armageddon, Born Against and current project the Convocation (nee the Convocation Of … ), a position that has made him the focal contact point for every Tom, Dick and/or Harriet that hoped to get Moss Icon to play a reunion set. Only two sets had transpired in the years following their break-up and most requests were met with offers of whatever project Joy had active currently. Singer Jonathan Vance released a solo record in 2005, but was rumored to have given up all things rocking in favor of a writing existence. A live set in Austin at this year’s Chaos In Tejas marked the return to the stage for Moss Icon, ostensibly with the original line-up save for the exchanging of drummer Mark Laurance for late period Icon adjunct Zak Fusciello. Live footage of the set displays a conspicuously male bass player (perhaps erstwhile second MI guitarist Alex Badertscher), making the role of original bassist Monica DiGialleonardo ambiguous at present, but the hour long set showed a band firing on most, if not all cylinders for the duration. A collection of Vance poetic musings and drawings called Tulip Has a Room was released early this year and appears to be the primary focus for Vance artistic endeavors currently, but the recent compilation of their discography by the good folk of Temporary Residence has made future live shows a reality, at least for the immediate future.
Complete Discography is as described, capturing the Moss Icon catalog in its entirety, albeit in curiously reversed order, opening with the Lyburnum record in its entirety and appending the early seven-inch material on the second disc. While Lyburnum definitely captured Moss Icon at the peak of their formidable powers, listening to their canon in chronological order is the most eye-opening way to understand their catalog. The distance, both chronological and compositional, between the short sharp shock of their first recorded output via “Hate In Me” and the eleven and a half minutes of “Lyburnum Wits End (Liveration Fly)” shows Moss Icon as a band always willing to push the musical envelope. The rarely sung, more often spoken or ranted vocals will be the polarizing factor for most newcomers. When they meld seamlessly on tracks like “As Afterward the Words Still Ring” and the archetypical Moss Icon track “I’m Back Sleeping, Or Fucking, Or Something” it can approach the sublime. The other side of the coin becomes conspicuous on the somewhat dated Reagan-isms of “Guatemala” or the twee alt-isms of “Moth”, but for the most part Complete Discography is a stellar encapsulation of a seminal signpost in the post-rock landscape of today.