On the Might of Princes captivated audiences on Long Island for years, bringing new dynamics and experimental heights -- of which were often sorely lacking -- to the local punk and hardcore scene. Prior to releasing their farewell album, Sirens, on Revelation Records in 2003, the band released two full-lengths on tiny labels to eventually swelling crowds of fans. Eugenics and Rok Lok Records teamed up to ensure the albums get their due exposure with deluxe reissues of both.
The Making of a Conversation officially marked LP1 for On the Might of Princes in 1999. Made up of 11 emotionally bare, fragile songs, the band took Sunny Day Real Estate's formula for moody and crawling yet propulsive rock songs and picked up the tempos and distortion while adding a new sense of raw frenzy. "Astoria" starts off the album in deceptive fashion with an upbeat shout of the song title, as the moods here are clearly more stressed and desperate from there on in. An early version of "Caboose" closes the original release of the album, acoustic, more lo-fi and rawly recorded approach making for an interesting listen. While the comparatively stripped down Conversation clearly falls short of the explosive dynamics, emotional depth and general cohesiveness reached on later efforts, it's a nice look at the band's early work, and the songs are crafted with an ambition not usually seen with bands so early in their course. Drummer Nicole Keiper is a solid fixture on the kit, however her replacement Chris Enriquez was clearly a primary reason the band sounds instantly stronger on the followup.
The extras on Conversation include an early, shortened video of "Poison of Youth" from 1999, two songs from the band's original demo and a compilation track. Recorded on 4-track, the demos are obviously rough, but they assuredly seep with promise as one would expect, sometimes even featuring moments better than the majority of the full-length followup. As for the video, it's limited to a single profile camera view and only one head-bobbing member of the "crowd' can be seen, however the audio is spot-on. It's disappointing the lyrics are not included in the liner notes; in its place Rok Lok founder Mike Andriani provides a rather enthusiastic, somewhat interesting look at his earliest experiences discovering and spending time with the band. Numerous live photos are also presented, however the liner notes would feel definitively complete with the aforementioned lyrics and previously promised show flyers of yore.
That followup album, 2001's Where You Are and Where You Want to Be undoubtedly features some of the band's best material and stylistically treads rarely marked territory. "The Water vs. the Anchor" is a downright anthem -- it's honestly hard for the rest of the album to even really match it (though at some points it does). Among its frenetically jangled opening riff, burst of fitful screams, twinkling octaves, heart-wrenching lyrical hook ("it's such a foolish attempt to hold onto a time when idiocy had no consequence"), dub bridge and intensive conclusion...it's incredible. If Saetia had time to progress far past their first LP, there's a slight chance they may have produced something similar, the same for which could be said of several tracks here. Throughout the overall course of Where You Want to Be the band master previously uncalculated highs and lows, with nearly every track having its respective highlights. There are the harrowed cries in "And the Hat Stays On;" the desperate sing-songy melodies and pounding stop-starts of "If I Knew Numbers (The Stalemate);" the excellent twang-induced "An Allusion to Italy;" the beautifully somber "Antique" (Texas Is the Reason) ripoff riffs in "As Long as She Doesn't Smoke" and its sad, immediately following revelation ("don't you hate it / when it turns out / you're the asshole"); the guttural/quiet sides of "You Can Only Be So Careful." And then there's "For Meg," book-ending the album with a soft/loud anthem to rule them all (aside from "Water/Anchor"); the emotionally draining guitars drift, strained vocals waft in the background, and the song builds for the group to chant along until every instrument drops out, then comes back in with spastic screams to cascade with them louder and louder, taking the song into one more softer reflection before it piles into a piercing mess of distortion, noise and slammed percussion that ends it...loudly. Repeated listens of Where You Are and Where You Want to Be open the doors of the little nuances that hide behind every corner of the album, proving not only its bottomless depth but that it is a complete, well-rounded effort that will last well beyond the six years it already has.
Where You Want to Be is similarly loaded up with the extras. Wells Tipley of Traffic Violation Records provides the insight, again in the place of lyrics -- this time, I know for sure the lyrics were excluded from the original release and that's a bit of annoyance for fans who don't already own them. There are more photos to fill it out, too. The bonus tracks include two compilation songs, one being an excellent earlier version of "And the Hat Stays On." That one original compilation song is "Hell or High Water," a very neat track that doesn't stylistically drift very far from the album's general feel. Closing is a live version of "The Water vs. the Anchor"; it would be neat to hear a version with the crowd singing/screaming along in unison, but this on-air version with cleaner-sounding guitar riffs and rawer screams makes for an intriguing listen. The live video of "For Meg" is great, showing the crowd unified and singing the aforementioned chant.
Both albums are wrapped in smooth, sleek o-cards. They're also re-mastered by Latterman's Phil Douglas as well, making for a bit more of a clerical sound. The aural differences aren't large, but luckily the audio is by no means ruined or changed from their original intent.
Serious compliments to Eugenics and Rok Lok for putting these albums back in print. Aside from minor complaints regarding the lack of printed lyrical content, the extras make for solid treats and the album themselves are important documents of the Long Island punk/hardcore community that are likely to hopefully inspire whole new crowds and provide pleasant reminders for the older ones. They'll be my pre-conceived souvenirs from the eventual reunion shows, and surely cherished.