Band: Jena Berlin
Album: Passion Waits as the Program Keeps Going
Best Element: Artistic incorporations into old-school emo
Genre: Emotional Hardcore (or True Emo)
Label: Unsigned (Sinful, really)
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ever since I’ve known of emotional hardcore, I’ve always harbored a dream of eventually being the vocalist for a true emo band- be that one guy who runs around on stage, screaming his guts out, flailing, and generally going nuts. But I also want to be able to sing- to be in a band that flexes its artistic muscle just as much as its intensity. I want to be creative and intense.
If I had my way, I’d be lead singer for Jena Berlin- cause Jena Berlin is creatively intense and intensely creative. Their album Passion Waits as the Program Keeps Going is without a doubt the greatest emo album I’ve heard in the 2000’s. Its combination of musicality and intensity is unrivaled by any other band in the scene that I know of.
Every song sounds like a manifesto- like a battle cry from the front lines of a war somewhere. Whether it’s the extremely dissonant hardcore of “Looking Over the Wall”, the melodically mid-tempo “Aiming for August”, the punch-in-the-teeth intensity of “Nothing Personal, Just Business”, or the piano-led interlude “A Bar in Michigan”, every track here holds a fire in it that either brims right below the surface or explodes outward in very noticeable ways.
And every song here is different- not one of them is a straight four-on-the-floor rager, although each song usually has a part that makes you want to throw up your fist and scream your head off. The intro of “Looking Over the Wall” is as punishing as they get, but they also throw down a twinkly indie-rock interlude in the middle of the song. You may not believe me, but I can hear reggae influence on “Maybe New York”. There’s definitely some punk influence, as in the intro to “Fine Line” before it reveals an atmospheric indie-rock bent in the instrumentation. Then, as soon as the atmospheric synth gets situated, it’s dropped for a straight-ahead rock section. And then it’s eventually brought back. It’s genuinely unpredictable music. I can’t ever guess whether the vocalist will come in with a sung vocal, a screamed vocal, or a yelled vocal- they’re just that diverse and complex. Parts that sound like they should be accompanied by sung vocals end up being screamed and vice-versa. I would say that Jena Berlin sounds like it wrote in a vacuum, but it really sounds more like the members studied a generic hardcore band and purposefully ripped apart every convention they could find.
Needless to say, it’s brilliant. I haven’t ever enjoyed a true emo album all the way through before, as the staunch, repetitive stance usually puts me off about 15 minutes in. But Jena Berlin encompasses so much territory in their debut album that I can’t help but continue to listen- I don’t know what’s coming next, so I’m compelled. This is what exciting hard music is. This should be required listening for any hard band that’s starting out. Period.