When I was in middle school and high school I had a supreme jealousy of New Jersey. I loved Thursday and My Chemical Romance, and those guys were always playing basements and VFW halls. We didn't even have basements in Texas. It looked like a gritty, sweaty blast, and I wanted in. For years I was convinced that NJ was having my generation's "moment" - like Seattle was for the grunge generation, NJ was for us. The Bouncing Souls and the Misfits had created a whole crop of descendants. Every one of them spoke with the sense of collective camaraderie you usually hear from war veterans; they wore their home state like a badge of honor or a battle scar. I dare you to look up interviews with any of these bands and see if you don't hear an allusion to the idea that growing up in New York's armpit instills a working class set of values and a need to prove yourself. I'm sure parts of the scene carry the torch for the old guard, but from what I've seen, today's bands are only reminiscent in terms of ideals. Musically they're electing to level up and bring a smart new energy.
“A More Perfect Union” from The Monitor is my soundtrack for the act of leaving. When I first discovered it, even the exact locations they spoke of mirrored my life - “I stand tonight ‘neath the lights of the Fenway”, “I never wanted to change the world but I’m looking for a new New Jersey”, “a brutal Somerville summer”. What’s brilliant about Patrick Stickles’ lyricism is the historical and literary reference. He’s not just talking about leaving or returning to NJ, he’s shouting the Battle Cry of Freedom. (I’ll always remember years later finding Civil War songs printed in my music history textbook that I already knew from Titus Andronicus). He’s taking chances with his life not for purely isolated reasons, but in accordance with ideals that define our society: “If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men, we will live forever, or die by suicide" - Abraham Lincoln. "Richard II" may reference an isolated moment in time, but when I hear it I can think of a million comparable modern situations, in the wide view of politics and the narrow view of my own life. Are there any other bands that can pull this off without a cheeky sense of irony? Stickles is in earnest, and so am I.
Thursday represents the purest form of that early 2000s Jersey hardcore. They were there first, they never faltered, and they’re relevant today. In their DVD (yes I owned it) they talked about how confused everyone was when they first came on the scene since Geoff Rickly’s voice is so unpolished, but those who got it, got it, and helped them usher in a new era. In the MCR DVD (yes, I owned it), Gerard Way talked about being coached by Rickly, who produced the first MCR record. What stuck with me was that Rickly impressed upon him to emote with every single word that came out of his mouth, that no phrase should be purposeless filler just designed to get you from one place to the next. This makes total sense when you listen to Thursday, and when you witness how active in the music community Rickly has been. Every opportunity to communicate is utilized, within the music and without. He gives back to other bands, even when traveling at 500 feet per second.
How does Marissa Paternoster’s voice sound trembling yet powerful and full of certainty at the same time? Like modern garage rock but harkening back to fucking Barracuda or White Rabbit, too? With the occasional metal-ass riff? It's no wonder they're beloved by Shirley Manson, Matt Bayles, and Brendan Canty. Screaming Females are a timeless hybrid.
the front bottoms
They hang around in that Kevin Devine, Brand New, Manchester Orchestra set, but they’re the young guns, and they do things a little bit differently. Thankfully not as differently as a lot of the “emo revival” or fifth-wave pop-punk bands that arrived late to the party and just serve to cruelly highlight the dying breaths of a once-loved genre. No, The Front Bottoms give me hope. There’s a special glint in their eye, truly deft wordsmithing, and a live show carried off with such insistence that your heart skips a beat to know that you’re witnessing something purposeful, for once. These guys mean it.