Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The timely pop return of Emergency Music

The music industry as we once knew it is dead and buried, and the pre- and post-Internet eras seem like two entirely distinct periods now. But there exists an entire generation of bands who had the unenviable fortune of forming during the uncertain limbo years, still tethered to the swiftly expiring traditions, but without clearly delineated paths through the tangled electronic future. Around the turn of the millennium most of us were online, but compared to the way we consume music now, with constantly updated music blogs, SoundCloud, and Spotify streaming an infinite supply of newness nonstop, that approach — a mix of rudimentary online services mixed with actual trips to the record store — seems positively archaic.

I bring this up in relation to Emergency Music, a longtime Boston favorite, because they came along at what may have been exactly the wrong time.

"I would agree that Emergency Music started at a rough time to be in a band if you're comparing it to starting up a band in 2011," frontman Jesse Duquette offers via email. "The advent of social media and blogosphering is a huge resource for bands looking to network and get the ball rolling, and that's something that was, at best, in its infancy when we came around. It's a whole lot easier now for bands to get their stuff out there and get 'found.' It happens all the time. None of us is particularly tech-savvy so I'm not sure if given the chance we could have even taken advantage of that."

A pity, because the songs that Duquette and the rest of the band would later go on to record on 2003's Kiss the Culprit deserved to be heard far and wide. The sleek, driving acoustic "Prodigal Son," the jangly, hook-drunk "Up for Hours," and the euphoric shout-along "So Long to the Subtle" were among Boston's aught indie classics. It was exquisite mod-pop melody mixed with new wave keyboard punk attitude. You'll Be the Death of Us All, Honey (2007) found the band fleshing out their sound with more expansive instrumentation and arrangements, and blending in Americana brushstrokes. The proverbial "mature" step forward.

"The earlier stuff, through Kiss the Culprit, at least, was absolutely informed only by us wanting to have fun and make people dance," Duquette writes. "And alcohol. Then, like any band I guess, we got a little antsy within the three-minute pop song paradigm and wanted to try a few different-ish things."

Either album would have fit snugly into the reverb-laden retro-wave class that dominates the blogs now. Perhaps the forthcoming record — working title Tonie Morrison Hotel — will remedy that oversight.

"I think it has our best songs to date, definitely the most fun songs to play live," Duquette notes, although every band ever says that. "There are songs that are maybe the noisiest stuff we've done, along with some of the most stripped-down." The few unfinished demos I've heard are a good start in that direction, although while "The Dinner Party" is more dusty country-road meandering and soulful harmonizing than raucous, "Obligation" seems like it could be downright blistering.

Another thing that's different about the band's approach today from the necessities of the pre-Internet years is that they're definitely not "getting in the van." That's a choice brought about by both the realities of thirtysomething lifestyles, members relocating, and an overall looser approach to chasing the prize. "When we were touring and playing tons of shows every month it was a total blast and it absolutely has its merits. But for me personally, I got a little burnt out on the whole social aspect of it and having to be a constant PR machine, having to talk about the band and being in a band and other peoples' bands all of the time. There was something a little unseemly about it to me."

Instead, for the past three years they've limited the schedule to a show or two a year, sometimes less. The infrequency has made the concerts more of an event. "To be honest, our expectations were never very lofty, so the fact that we can take a year off from playing a single show and still have a ton of people still care enough to show up is its own brand of success to us."

EMERGENCY MUSIC + SOCCER MOM + AUTOCHROME + MARCONI | T.T. the Bear's Place, 10 Brookline St, Cambridge | September 23 @ 9 pm | 18+ | $10 | 617.492.2327

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