Light These Dreams
mo: the most detested descriptor in music criticism? When the Trail of Dead’s Source Tags and Codes was released two years ago to substantial acclaim, critics were reluctant to use the dreaded word because the music, in their minds, did not “deserve” to be labeled as such. We all understand why, but it’s becoming a little unfair to the word’s progenitors that a name intended to describe nothing more than a genre’s sound must connote poor quality as well.
Yet one asks oneself, who is there to combat this injustice? Amidst a filthy pool of Dashboards and New Found Glorys, Blink-182 stands as the only popular—this qualifier eliminates the Trail of Dead, as well as a number of others—emo band worth a damn. As such, it is easy to see how the inequity began. The question is, which upcoming indie band will break the mold and join Blink-182 among the emo elite, those with the power to provide the term the fair treatment it deserves?
For a few minutes, it seems as if Fairfax might be the one. “A Night Like This”, the lead-off track from the band’s debut album, Light These Dreams, is exactly the kind of song that could transform “emo” into a word with the potential for greatness. The song is wonderfully infectious, replete with anthemic guitars that crash courageously through the ebullient choruses and featuring the rare verse that serves as more than a mere set-up for the imminent rock-out. With any luck, “A Night Like This” will soon find a place on modern rock radio.
After this exceptional highlight, however, Fairfax offers little to persuade the emo-hater. The lyrics appear to be lifted from that detestable Poetry 101 course Christopher Carrabba and likeminded songwriters enrolled in at age 16 and never progressed from. Take, for example, the metaphor on “The Day We Lit the Fuse”: “Sparks that fly are often more than a glow / And who knows what they could ignite if they get out of control”. In his abashedly “elegant” lyricism, singer Dave Kiesel continually avoids detail, opting instead for safe intimations of fear and regret, and consequently leaving his words cliché and totally bare of any intended insight.
Worse, on “Don’t Count on Me”, Kiesel produces a nearly definitive “emo checklist” for his opening verse: “Sometimes things change, hope dies, love fades / It’s not hard to see I’m just not sure of anything / Sunset, sunrise, bad days, blue skies / Count on these things, but please don’t ever count on me.” Bitter, disillusioning view of the world. Check. Self-doubt. That’s there all right. Allusions to universally recognized poetic images. Got those. Some more self-doubt. Good. Very good.
Even past the lyrics, Light These Dreams fails repeatedly to convince the emo-skeptic. From start to finish, there is virtually no variety in sound, and unsurprisingly, the hooks do not sustain the quality of the opening track. The only benefit here is that there are no acoustic ballads to suffer through.
Thus, “emo” remains synonymous with all things trite, effete, and unexciting. One can continue to hope that someday a few indie bands will enter the popular scope and prove to critics and music listeners alike that “emo” is not a dismissing label, but Fairfax will most likely not be one of them. Until such a day arrives, a few choice singles from Blink-182 are all we, the emo-hopeful, have.
Reviewed by: Kareem Estefan
Reviewed on: 2004-06-28