Crate-Digging: Give Up the Ghost – Background Music

I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.

(Equal Vision, 2003)

I’ve been painfully honest in the past, and I don’t think that this qualifies as “painfully,” but I think I have to remind you that I’m not a hardcore guy. I used to be even less of one – see, I’ve had friends and relatives go through (or remain in, as it were) hardcore phases, and they’ve always tried to get me into “the scene.” These were high school and college phases, mostly, and I resisted pretty intently. I never had anything against the hardcore crowd – although they were an awfully serious and melodramatic bunch – but I was more content to unearth nuggets of the indie variety than troll the VFWs and high school auditoriums for limited press 7-inches and CDRs. And although I’ve seen one or two hardcore bands play in my past, I’ve never had the guts to enter a circle pit. I don’t know if it’s my aversion to swinging fists or the fact that those fists most often belonged to dudes twice my size, but I decided long ago that I liked my face the way it was. I wear glasses too, so the fewer situations I’m in where they could possibly be broken, the better. And really, do you ever see more than one or two people in a circle pit? You get one guy doing crazy ninja kicks and the room clears. I think most people have an aversion to pummeling. It’s funny, too, when small girls think they can hack it in the pit – and they mostly can, because the brutes tend to leave them alone. I assure you, I’d be Target #1.

Oh, and I was in a band that played a VFW hardcore show at one point – except the band I was in was a jammy indie outfit along the lines of early Built to Spill. We opened the show – I don’t know how we got out of there alive.

OK, enough about me, but that’s some pretty good background for diving into a Give Up the Ghost record, and hopefully sets the tone for the flippant yet respectful snark that follows. But there’s some history here with this record – it was originally released on a very limited basis in 2001 under the band’s former (and cooler) name, American Nightmare, itself a Misfits song from the Legacy of Brutality record. Of course with a song name that cool from a band that prolific, there was bound to be trouble: another band already had that name. So after a bit of legal wrangling, the band road-tested American Nothing before throwing in the red-white-and-blue towel altogether in favor of Give Up the Ghost. Know how long that lasted? As is the case with many hardcore bands, not long at all. The band re-released Background Music in 2003 through Equal Vision, then broke up in 2004, after releasing one other full-length, We’re Down Til We’re Underground and an odds-and-ends comp, Year One. Frontman Wes Eisold soldiered on in the noisier Some Girls, then did a complete 180 and formed Cold Cave (with noise sculptor Dominick Fernow, aka Prurient, and ex-Xiu Xiu sidekick Caralee McElroy), a darkwave/synth-pop band indebted more to Bauhaus and Joy Division than Dag Nasty and Circle Jerks.

*Double take* Er???

Yeah, that sounds more my speed. But you’d be surprised – I really dig Give Up the Ghost for what it is: classic, no-frills hardcore. All the touchstones are present: speed, distortion, volume, screamed vocals – all the elements that allow easy fist-shaking at the sky (or The Man) for angry dudes. The band makes it a little easier on the rest of us though, as they switch up tempo with ease at points, and add and drop instruments and elements for a more dynamic sound. Tracks like “(We Are),” the awesome “AM/PM” (if I ever make a hardcore mixtape, this song’s on it), and “Farewell” showcase the band’s versatility. “Postmark My Compass,” the minute-long “Hearts,” and “God Save the Queen” are also standouts. But really, with eleven songs clocking in at around 25 minutes, you’re not going to find much to quibble with. I’m pretty sure I’d take issue with what must be heart-on-sleeve emo lyrics, but since I can only pick out a “You can have my heart” here and rhyming “blue” with “you” there, I’ll edge away from calling out Eisold for yelping poetry from a high school girl’s notebook (albeit a girl with severe bronchial limitations). But as far as a substantial chunk of palatable hardcore, Background Music sure hits the spot without being overbearing or too short. Now if we could only get them to reform and tour with Vampire Weekend…

(Note: After reading that last sentence, I realized that I’m not sure what it means. Vampire Weekend was the first “indie” band that popped into my mind for some reason to tie the review back to my “glory days”of playing good ol’ indie rock at a hardcore show. But I hate Vampire Weekend, so I would just as soon see them tour with Give Up the Ghost so the latter’s fans could kick the shit out of all the prissy jerks in polos with popped collars. I guess it’s a win-win for my column as well as the alternate universe in which Wes Eisold has never gone goth. Take it as you will.)

RIYL: Some Girls, Madball, Converge

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