Past Lives Tapestry of Webs

[Suicide Squeeze; 2010]

Styles: post-hardcore
Others: Blood Brothers, Shoplifting, Head Wound City, Neon Blonde

The Blood Brothers were a post-hardcore group, one that flirted with the kind of popularity that groups like Modest Mouse has held down in spades. While most bands recording intricate guitar melodies, vocal histrionics, bombastic bass, and unpredictable drum tempo are dealt this post-hardcore designation, an unwieldy and emotionally unstable execution of these elements almost ensures admission into the camp. Unfettered chaos buckled together with technical prowess was part of the Blood Brothers formula, and they were able to garner a respectable degree of notoriety before breaking up in 2007. With Past Lives, the newest (and there have been a few) Blood Brothers offshoot, we see a blurring away from the post-hardcore trope. If part of the point of post-hardcore was that hardcore musicians stopped caring whether their music fit in with self-identifying musical scenes and started making music that was more ‘artsy’ (hence the horrific trope ‘art punk’), then this would help explain Past Lives’ seamless entry into less scene-generated formulas.

Past Lives consists of Jordan Blilie, Mark Gajadhar, Morgan Henderson, and Devin Welch. The first three were in The Blood Brothers when that band broke up, and Devin Welch was one of its original members. So, it would seem that Past Lives’ debut Tapestry of Webs couldn’t be that different from albums by their former project. Yet while there are no new faces, here we have a band that is suddenly marked by restraint, one that features less power chords and screaming than their forebear. In fact, there is essentially no caterwauling and not a whole ton of ripping or even distorted guitar. It’s still fairly edgy music, but because they hold a firm grip on each song, there is a more composed and calculated feel that makes the emotional bent of their earlier work seem like a distant past. It helps too that the yippier of the two Blood Brothers vocalists, Johnny Whitney, is not on this album.

Tapestry of Webs reminds me of some of my favorite albums by indie rock bands from the early- to mid-90s that appeared at the same time the whole Lollapalooza/grunge/Nirvana period started redefining what mainstream rock could and would sound like. Appropriation of geographically specific indie or underground scenes was a promising, although ultimately failed, attempt by mainstream record companies to replicate the Seattle scene’s success at the time. Label execs looked for places, rather than bands, in the hope that they could use geographic proximity as a selling point instead of developing relationships with artists who would have staying power under their own merit. One such place was Chapel Hill, North Carolina, home to key groups like Archers of Loaf and Polvo who were supposed to be the vanguard of a scene-based movement that would eclipse Seattle’s prominence (one that didn’t quite happen). Thus, 15 years later, it’s interesting to hear similarities between the work of a Seattle band like Past Lives and those older Raleigh bands: vocal aplomb, tonal distinction, and instrumental restraint are perfectly fine qualities to aspire to (especially if your band used to sound and act like a pack of wild dogs), and it shows a geographical and aesthetic fluidity that’s especially worth noting.

Clearly, the former members of The Blood Brothers are showing signs of maturity and making interesting musical decisions that could potentially overshadow their previous work. With Tapestry of Webs, Past Lives prove how musicians spawned from relatively constrictive sonic bloodlines, like hardcore, can eventually produce something that’s different, yet equally penetrating. Twisting their entire format around is something I can both respect and admire, and I hope it is part of a broader indication that bands are becoming less dependent on scenes to help define their music.

Links: Past Lives - Suicide Squeeze

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