Home / Embrace — s/t (Dischord, 1986)

Embrace — s/t (Dischord, 1986)

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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.

NMWYH Album Rating: 4 and 1/2 out of 5. This album is a classic and an excellent primer for Fugazi’s Repeater.

To download an Embrace song and for other independent rock musings, visit No Matter What You Heard.

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  • Amber

    Yes Embrace own you all. I got the original pressing of this record. Then gave it to a friend. I’m an idiot.

    They do rule though.

  • usualchannels

    For audiophiles? All you can hear is drums and vocals! Man, you must really hate string instruments…

    By the way, the emo claim totally makes sense–in the 1989 Dischord/Positive Force compilation booklet, a cat is playfully listed as being named “Emo the Positive cat.” The label surely starts with Rites of Spring, but even pre-Fugazi, there was a strong association between the groups. It’s not the fault of these groups that emo started to mean shitty no-talent rich kids circa early 90s Gravity records and since…

    Happy new year.

  • vadermask

    Yes. One of the best records of all time.

  • THE best.

  • Amanda

    Honestly the whole goofy “emo” tag started w/ an article in Thrasher (dealing exclusively with DC bands, Rites of Spring & Embrace in particular) back in 1985 — I remember the day I read it & chuckling at the expression. Who would’ve ever guessed it’d be recognized as some sort of legit sub genre 20 years later? It was generally scoffed at at the time, especially in DC, but tags tend to stick.

    Anyway, them’s the facts. I’m sure that the stuff that came along later & was classified as “emo” doesn’t have much in relation to these bands to modern ears, but that’s okay — the junk being called “hardcore” or “industrial” similarly bear scant relation to their namesakes from two decades or so ago. No big deal; musical terms change.

  • Jenn

    This CD kicks pandas and Anyone who likes Fugazi will LOVE this.

  • James

    Emo came from a 1984 interview Ian MacKaye did with Flipsize magazine. when asked what seperated the bands of mid 90s dc bands and the likes of SOA and minor threat, he refered to it as more emotional, it got shortened.