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Local CD Review

Try To Blink
Past Mistakes

Knoxville emo-core kings Past Mistakes' first EP, Try To Blink (Seasonal Affect Recordings) is finally out; and it's a real keeper. On their debut recording, the young band members prove that they've got chops, songwriting skills, and sincerity—all necessary ingredients to carry the band far beyond the confines of the local scene.

Recorded on a shoestring budget of around $500 at Knoxville's Nightsong Studios, the CD has a deceptively big-budget sound. Apparently, engineer Jesse Jones really knew which knobs to turn, because the recording quality is up to major league standards.

The tunes on Try To Blink mix influences of hardcore, emo, pop, and an occasional metal lick into a strong, if perhaps too short, collection. But then again, punk rock (that's what it all boils down to) is a concentrated form, and it's not a bad thing that listening to the EP leaves listeners wanting more.

Sure, the guys in the band are all good musicians, but the key to the success of the CD is really the strong songcraft and heartfelt emotion found within. The lyrical themes dealing with the usual adolescent subjects of friendship, heartbreak, and the tribulations of young adulthood seem real—which is a far cry from the usual aggrandized self pity found in emo. There's plenty of introspection, but not too much navel gazing.

The standout track of the collection is "Still Searching," a reflection on a friendship strained by the trials of growing up. The lilting melody of the song will stick in your head for a maddening amount of time, which is to say it's a damn good tune that deserves radio play. Underneath the loud guitars there's a pop heartbeat going strong, and that's the true appeal of Past Mistakes.

An Emo Good Time

Speaking of Past Mistakes, the band shared a bill with Tooth & Nail recording artistes The Juliana Theory and locals CoExist last Sunday at The Electric Wizard. A good crowd of around 70 punks, emo devotees, and curious stragglers crowded the tiny arcade for an evening of head nodding, dancing, and a general good time—with a couple of drawbacks, of course.

The show got off to a slow start with opening act Coexist. The young band just couldn't decide what direction to take, which is never a good thing. Coexist has evolved from a Christian hardcore band into a harder-edged rap/metal mixture that is all too popular these days. Sounding a lot like Korn for Christ, the band drew little reaction from the audience—most of whom preferred to socialize out front or head down the street for a cup of coffee.

Those who didn't leave during Coexist's set seemed baffled or indifferent. The band had a "singer" who adopted the low, roaring death metal vocal style that is virtually indecipherable. And the guitarist wearing the silver face mask looked silly, not scary. Everyone, including the band, seemed relieved when its set was finished.

After a brief intermission, Past Mistakes took over for what turned out to be its record release concert. The crowd all pushed toward the front so they could sing along to all their favorite tunes from their beloved local heroes.

The set was plagued by a few technical problems, but by and large the band's talent and drive shone through for a strong and entertaining performance. Singer/bassist Chase Valentine led the band through a rousing set that included two brand spanking new tunes.

A big distraction while Past Mistakes played was a couple of skinhead types who seemed intent on starting a mosh pit, even though nobody in the crowd really wanted to get in on the action. One particularly big skin had apparently had a six-pack too many before attending the show, and he just wouldn't stop for anything. It was kind of funny watching the crowd rolling their eyes at his antics. I'm sure he meant well, but it really wasn't the setting for slam dancing.

After quite a bit of knob twisting and set-up delays, The Juliana Theory hit the stage for a satisfying set that was well executed, if a bit typical.

It's funny to see how, now that emo has become a rigidly defined genre, many of the bands adopt the exact same music, clothing, hairstyles, and even stage poses into their presentations. Yes, The Juliana Theory played very well—but its delivery and onstage affectations were such a cookie cutter rendition of everything emo, that I couldn't help but dislike them.

Remember way back in the primordial days of the early '90s when every freakin' band on Earth sounded and looked like Nirvana? Well the '90s are almost over, and now most of the underground bands seem to want to sound and look like The Get Up Kids, The Promise Ring, and Jimmy Eat World. Maybe it's a "new" sound, but it's the same old bandwagon-jumping that invariably happens once a new style gets popular.

The Juliana Theory's rote rendition of current emo makes me doubt its sincerity. I mean, really, most of this emo stuff is no more emotional than any other pop music. I just get tired of seeing all these bands playing their music, which sounds like a soundtrack to Dawson's Creek, and acting like they're all deep and in so much pain.

The disaffected "teenager in pain" routine is about as tired as the grunge thing was a few years ago. And I'm sure that most of the bands riding the present emo hype wave will soon be unceremoniously discarded. Let's hope the process of natural selection continues as usual.

Gimme Some 'Boys!

Zippy has to admit he would never have thought about going to see the Backstreet Boys unless he knew a certain 9-year-old girl who really, really wanted to go. I went expecting to sit through two hours of teenybopper pablum and instead witnessed a spectacle of sound, fire, and gymnastics that would awe a KISS roadie; a dance show like something Busby Berkeley would have put on if he'd known the Ringling Brothers; and—most surprising of all—a diversity of actual music, ranging from quiet piano ballads to jazz to loud funk. You've probably heard about the giant black smoking box from which the Boys emerged on surfboards and soared through the air above the crowd to land, somehow, on the stage for an especially large performance of "Larger Than Life"—but you may not have heard that the Boys' saxophonist, who is actually a Backstreet Girl, later led the band in an authentic rendition of the bebop classic, "Killer Joe." Sure, the Boys know who their audience is and played to them shamelessly with teddy bears; sure, there's something Disney World phony about the whole thing; sure, there was the usual flattery—we heard the Boys shout the word "Knoxville!" from stage at least 40 times, more than we've ever heard it during a City Council meeting—but you'd have to have a skullful of bile to care. Our friend and her 25,000 comrades were, for two hours, larger than life. The Boys are filthy rich, and deserve to be.

Zippy "Yummy, yummy boys" McDuff