Why I Have Always Hated and Still Hate Taking Back Sunday
We are nothing if we don't aspire to break down biases, and as such, we here at CLRVYNT are ready to fall on our swords in the name of journalism. Enter Editorial Bias, in which each reviewer is forced to confront a band in the canon that they do not care for, digging deep into a prized release and providing an analysis of their record. Tastes change, people change, but records are a constant. Our first entry is Taking Back Sunday's Tell All Your Friends, which our reviewer is listening to in its entirety for the first time.
Let’s talk straight: I am not even vaguely emo. I don’t care for virtually the entire genre, much less anything tangentially related. I don’t believe that the words “melodic” and “hardcore” should be sandwiched together, let alone the words “pop” and “punk.” There are exceptions to all of these rules, but in general, anything even vaguely resembling what I personally deem as “mall punk” (Rancid, though I am a huge fan, are pretty much mall punk in my book) is thrown by the wayside. To me, punk is about taking action and fighting authority, and hardcore is an offshoot of that. I don’t want anything resembling whiny vocals anywhere near my punk. Stay away. *wears garlic wreath, dons crucifix*
In my mind, Taking Back Sunday are mall punk. They are a band that I have heard on occasion — never on purpose — and never cared for despite the fact that the bulk of my friends are from Long Island and grew up with them. And while they exist within my circle of friends, they do not within my circle of influence. Which is totally fine — there are tons of bands that aren’t critical darlings that I adore. Yet, the few times that I have heard Taking Back Sunday, it has been over a PA or a loudspeaker or the like. And each time, I would do calculations in my head like, “If this is a pop-punk song, that means this is probably 3:30 long. I have 2:45 left,” and “OK, one verse and chorus down, two more to go.” I’ll listen to anything once or twice, but it takes a bit for me to feel connected to it if that moment doesn’t happen immediately. The entire genre of emo has always felt like it was written for some guy at the mall food court crying into his milkshake over a girl.
What strikes me immediately is the vocals, those whiny vocals set super high in the mix. “You Know How I Do” is the first track, and it has the oddest mix of all time: vocals high on top of everything, with the guitars utterly and completely neutered. The vocals are definitely well-executed, melodic in a pleasant way, but are clearly the focal point. And while I can hear what they want to convey in the track instrumentally (which sounds relatively dynamic and fun), all of it loses to the guy whining in the front. If these are pop songs, and the melody is conducted by this vocal, it’s going to be hard to overcome this hurdle. And therein lies my problem with virtually the entire world of emo — it all goes back to that guy and his milkshake.
So, why exactly is it so hard to get past in these vocals? Vocalists like Weyes Blood, Hope Sandoval, Marissa Nadler, Antony, Mark Kozelek and Jason Molina all convey deep wells of emotion, oceans of darkness and regret that can only feel darker by the music surrounding them. While their voices can sound like touching the void, Taking Back Sunday rarely seem to open up on a similarly emotional level; for them, the depths of despair are more in tune with teen angst than true vulnerability and darkness.
Can the instrumentation move the needle here? For the most part, Taking Back Sunday play standard post-hardcore riffs with some semi-interesting moments here and there. The band is good, and they know what they're doing. Ultimately, the issue for me lies in the vocal style, which feels tied to a time and place. ’90s R&B and the use of vibrato and scales were very much of a specific era, as was the rampant use of Auto-Tune or anything similar. Emo-style vocals like this will never be fashionable; instead, they'll be an important part of an era to a certain group of nostalgics. And hopefully never again.