I have recently been listening over and over to Ian MacKaye’s post-Minor Threat / pre-Fugazi band, Embrace. Embrace released an extraordinary rock album in early 1986 — an album that was re-released in 2002 with two alternate takes as bonus tracks. Accompanying Ian were Michael Hampton on guitar, Chris Bald on bass and Ivor Hanson on drums, all of whom were members of The Faith with Ian’s brother Alex (or stolen from Alex says this source).
Among fans of indie rock, there is a certain mystique that attaches to essentially all of Dischord’s 80s bands — Dischord has long embodied anti-establishment, independent rock and remains the gold standard for indie labels. Critics have added to the aura with bold proclamations regarding Embrace and labelmates, Rites of Spring (with Guy Picciotto of Fugazi). Allmusic, for example, has pegged Embrace and Rites of Spring as the forefathers of emo:
After years of screaming with Minor Threat, MacKaye began singing melodic, introspective lines with Embrace, which kept the fire and passion of hardcore, albeit slower and more heartfelt. Legend has it the new sound prompted someone in the audience to yell that Embrace was “emocore.”
This designation is as vague and intriguing as the labeling of Neil Young as the godfather of grunge. Certain of MacKaye’s lyrics, however, strengthen this claim. From the album’s first track called “Give Me Back”:
“I’m pissed at my anger / But if he don’t want to fight / I turn to my conscience / But he just thinks I’m right / My insecurities / They got nothing to hide / My emotions are my enemies / For being on my side / Give me back my feelings”.
And again in “Past”:
“I failed you / As a person who should’ve / Cared / I shut my mouth / Because I was scared / I hid my feelings / When they should’ve been / Bared / I turned you off / And I, I should’ve cared.”
The emotive nature of these lyrics clearly marks a departure from MacKaye’s unpolished lyrical style in his Minor Threat work (as an example, check out “Small Man, Big Mouth”).
The accuracy of the association set aside, the album contains some of MacKaye’s most passionate and political — even moralistic — lyrics of his bright musical career. To illustrate, consider the lyrics from “Money”:
“You speak the land of greed / I’m talking a world of need / Money has nothing to do / With the value of life / But that’s just common sense.”
Or “Do Not Consider Yourself Free”, which you can download at the link provided below:
“My silence will convict me / If I can do some good / I want to do it / If I have a choice / I want to make it / It’s my human responsibility / That life lives / Selfishness gives / And death becomes natural.”
Equally as impressive is the tight and gritty rock that MacKaye’s colleagues create: catchy, yet abrasive, guitars layered over inventive rambling basslines and tight percussion. Though one can detect hints of 80s production on the album, overall the production, in my opinion, is remarkably timeless. To the disappointment of rock fans everywhere, one album of such stellar material is all Embrace could afford us audiophiles.
To download an Embrace song and for other independent rock musings, visit No Matter What You Heard.