Embrace - Embrace (Cover Artwork)


Embrace (1987)


This is another of those albums that I kept putting off buying. Minor Threat and Fugazi are two of my all time favorite bands, but I guess I was a little nervous that this would not live up to those two bands (Embrace was Ian MacKaye's band in-between Minor Threat and Fugazi). Like it would be part Minor Threat, part Fugazi, but not nearly as good as either. Wrong again. This album floored me.

Embrace was made up of Ian MacKaye (who was previously the bassist of the Teen Idles, the singer of Minor Threat and Skewbald/Grand Union, did side projects in Egg Hunt and Pailhead and now plays guitar and sings half the songs in Fugazi and also co-owns Dischord Records) and three of the five members of Faith: Michael Hampton (previously of SOA, Faith and Skewbald/Grand Union and later of One Last Wish) on guitar, Ivor Hanson (previously of Faith) on drums and Chris Bald (previously of Faith and later of Ignition) on bass. Faith was another of those early Dischord hardcore bands and featured Alec MacKaye (Ian's brother) on vocals, who is, contrary to popular belief, the guy on the cover of Minor Threat's complete discography. They called in quits in '83 and Ian recruited three of the members to form Embrace in '85. Embrace only lasted a year, but they recorded this excellent album before they fell apart, which was not actually released until '87 and was recently remastered and re-issued with two bonus tracks. I've never heard the original issue, so I don't know if it sounds any better, but the bonus tracks are cool, even if they're just alternate version of songs already on here.

I'm a tad biased towards anything Ian does, seeing as how he single handedly changed the way I view music, but that's a story for another time. The point here is that this album is fabulous. If you're expecting fast and furious old school hardcore ala Minor Threat or more abstract post-hardcore ala Fugazi, you're going to be disappointed. What we have here is some mid-tempo punkish rock, but with a twist. Michael Hampton's guitar work really gives this album a unique sound. Refusing to stick to simple power chords, he instead concentrates of coming with much more unorthodox and much more creative melodies. The only down side to this is that you tend to not really notice them at first, due to the fact that they're somewhat low in the mix and sometimes you don't even notice that they're there. But if you listen closely, you'll find some really interesting stuff going on. The drums move along nicely enough with some cool fills and the bass work is a lot more complicated and interesting than you're going to hear in the average punk/hardcore record and it never falls into the easy trap of just playing the same thing as the guitar. The song here are incredibly catchy, but not in the typical way. The hooks aren't incredibly obvious, they're far more subtle and so you don't hear them at first. But after a few listens, you become addicted and realize just how clever and catchy the songs are. Not to mention just how fun it is to sing along to.

The real star of the album, however, is Ian. This is, in my opinion, his best vocal performance. The passion and power in his voice is simply undeniable. What he lacks in conventional singing ability, he makes up for in pure emotion. And I'm not talking about the cheesy, overdone emotion that everyone is going apeshit for nowadays, I'm talking about genuine, heartfelt feelings. Instead of just staying in one mood, he alternates, sometimes yelling, sometimes sounding on the verge of sobs, sometimes sounding much more confident and occasionally using that sarcastic talking that we all love so much, and it's all so genuine! And the lyrics are some of his best, from his self doubt in "Dance of Days" (I bitch at my anger but he don't want to fight/I turned to my conscience, you know he just thinks I'm right/my insecurities, they got nothing to hide/my emotions are my enemies for being on my side) to his pleas for change in "No More Pain" (No more number 1, we've got to quit that game/no more attitude, give it back to the TV set/no more tough stance, I hear your mommy call/no more suicide, it kills everyone/no more petty love, no more petty hate, no more pettiness, no more pain), there's a lot you can learn from this album.

I know a lot of people credit Embrace for starting a certain sub-genre that everyone's talking about, and I'm sure a lot of people will love to argue about that, but why? Instead of concentrating on what Embrace did or didn't start, let's concentrate on the music, which is fabulous. I know people on this site tend to hand out 5 stars and 4 and half stars like they're nothing, but I think they should be reserved for only the best albums. I'm not giving this four and a half stars out lightly, this album deserves it. For anyone who is a fan of Minor Threat and Fugazi (though don't expect something that sounds like either of those bands), the "Dischord sound" or classic 80s punk/hardcore in general, this album is essential. I can't recommend it enough.