Day 170: Playlist Music – Crash of Rhinos’s “Big Sea”

by Tom Noonan

There’s not a whole lot of land left to colonize in emo.  The genre’s tropes are well established and, for the most part, uniformly grating.  You don’t need to look far into the canon to get the point; it’s sensitive white dudes singing about, around, to, for, and in memory of girls they’ve probably never spoken to.  There’s something to be said about such a crucial yet superficial separation between writer and subject, but very few of these bands think too much about that, choosing instead to sling together mad-libs about control, pain, and death.  You get the feeling that most emo singers picture themselves as Lloyd Dobler, but they don’t have the same kind of masculinity complex.  There’s just not enough conflict to make things interesting.  We’ve all fallen in love, and we’ve all had people not feel the same way.  Emo imagines itself as a comforting outlet for such a situation but really just shows us how fucking annoying people going through that shit can be.  You don’t want to spend time with emo; you end up wanting to run away from it.

But, like any genre, there are outliers.  For emo, the most successful bands tend to take up the most space, letting their sounds conflate to their outsized emotions.  In 2002, Taking Back Sunday did this by contriving a dialogue between two singers who seemed to be completely unaware of each other’s existence.  This conceit drew a line through a shared consciousness, and the pairing of Adam Lazarra and Ben Nolan’s voices started to resemble overlapping Shakespearean monologues.  All this melodrama culminated in the genuinely angry “You’re So Last Summer”, a song that benefitted from the sheer power of Lazarra and Nolan finally syncing up and nailing a vindictive point home.  “Cause I’m a wishful thinker with the worst intentions/This will be the last chance you ever get to drop my name”*.  It was the logical end to the album’s internal struggle, and, even if you found it somewhat shallow, you believed every fucking word.

Around 2010, emo got another endlessly entertaining entry from BandCamp all-stars Crash of Rhinos called Distal.  It’s an album that takes up the most space possible, that feels like it contains a few months-long relationship inside its 40 minute running time.  There’s screaming, but it’s spread across five voices, each of them resembling the last in the way voices at an AA meeting begin to sound alike.  You don’t feel like singing along to Distalas much as you feel like testifying.

The album opens with a tour-de-force of ravenous cymbals and dissenting guitars called “Big Sea” that eventually builds to a brothers-in-arms sing along about shared suffering.  “Where was that luck/When we needed it?”  Emo might be hard to swallow when it’s just one dude wining, but when there are five or so sharing in the excessive sorrow, you can’t help but commiserate.

Listen to “Big Sea” below:

*Someone cc: Drake on this one.