I finally got my Bridge 9 package yesterday, picking it up from the local pharmacy the day after it was supposedly brought to my apartment by a mailman or -woman unable to wake me up with basic doorbell technology. A note was left. Tomorrow, after 1 p.m., it said. I made plans to be available.
As I wove through the sun and the Canada Day crowds, package in hand, on my way home, I started thinking about Paint It Black's history. Which is a lie, but it allows me to segue nicely into some useful background information. After putting out the almost insanely short -- 17 songs in 18 minutes -- CVA in 2003, which I recall Dan Yemin saying made him feel good because he could write fully-realized melodic hardcore songs that much shorter than the next guy's, they pretty much had nowhere to go but up, song length-wise. Hence 2005's 14-songs-in-21-minutes Paradise, which, until yesterday, stood uncontested in my mind as their best work. Gone were much of the positivity and humo(u)r present in snatches on CVA. It was darker, grittier, angrier and lyrically dealt overwhelmingly with U.S. politics rather than scene politics.
While these trends worked wonders for Paradise, I felt PIB took them too far on 2008's 15-songs-in-30-minutes New Lexicon, to the detriment of what made CVA so good -- the melodic element. On paper, the album looked unstoppable. It was a whole lot more Paint It Black than we'd ever gotten before. They promised a bassier, Bad Brains-ier tone. They hooked up with producer Oktopus to screw with the songs, introducing a hip-hop element to the production in much the same way Yemin has admitted to looking to rap for inspiration in the rhythm and internal rhymes of his lyrics, which, to my mind, stand out as some of the best in hardcore, modern or otherwise.
Somehow, though, the final product was kind of underwhelming. Admittedly, the album had its moments. "Past Tense, Future Perfect" is classic PIB, "We Will Not"'s haunting background melody exemplified how a song could benefit from outside production, and "Shell Game Redux" proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that Paradise's "Memorial Day" was no fluke of an epic album-closer. But too many songs failed to grab on a very visceral level the way past Paint It Black had -- and it hardly helped that they had left one of the best tracks, "Goliath," off the album completely.
It was with a heavy heart, then, that I listened to the MySpace stream of Amnesia's opening track, "Salem," a few weeks ago. Here was Paint It Black coming to the logical conclusion of the CVA --> Paradise --> New Lexicon shift. Anger: supercharged. Melody: gone. Catchiness: nil. Not a goddamn chorus in sight. Dr. Dan seemed to be yelling so hard that by the end of the song, he had actually developed a lisp (seriously). Had the band I knew and loved so much finally turned into an unlovable monster? After faithfully pre-ordering the 7" EP from Bridge Nine, along with a sweet Horsebites-designed PIB T-shirt, I downloaded Amnesia and started to listen.
My initial reaction was that here we had three pretty good songs ("Homesick," "Nicotine," "Amnesia") sounding somewhere between CVA and Paradise, sandwiched between a song that made all of New Lexicon sound like effeminate power-pop in comparison ("Salem"), and a song that was both longer and poppier than the rest of their catalogue by a wide margin ("Bliss"). PIB had found sonic success in the past when filtering other genres through their particular strain of hardcore -- I'm looking at you, amazing Joy Division bit in "365" -- and "Bliss" is no exception. At 3:32, it's a full minute longer than the longest proper song on New Lexicon, and still longer than any of the static-enhanced tracks, to boot. It's a serious departure, but they pull it off with aplomb -- it's the best song on the EP. All in all, I thought, a reasonably satisfying release; much better than New Lexicon, anyway.
Then I put the needle down on the actual physical copy of the 7" (I got the grey version). When "Salem" kicked in, I completely forgot that I disliked the song. I literally started hardcore dancing in my living room. Dr. Dan was talking all this jibber-jabber in interviews about how the 7" is the ideal hardcore format...well, now I understand him. The vinyl-versus-mp3 difference was like night and day. Every time Side B ended, I was convinced I was done, but no. I needed more. I listened to the damn thing three and a half times in the span of 45 minutes! It was with a heavy heart, then, that I finally put it to bed for the day, worried that I was severely testing my neighbours' patience.
So let me break it down for all you e-jockeys and cyber-surfers: Screw a download. Do yourselves a favo(u)r and purchase the real, physical version of Amnesia. It is straight-up unfuckwithable.