Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Felix Culpa releases the post-hardcore masterpiece

February 11, 2010

The Felix Culpa‘s Sever Your Roots is the sound of men with brains and hearts resisting the complacency that creeps over young men when they are not watching and turns them into their fathers. The range of emotions underlying this theme is matched in the wide span of songwriting moods; while the bulk of these songs reside stylistically in the artistic post-hardcore that brought them initially to the forefront of Independent Clauses, the band pushes its boundaries outward in all directions.

The last minute of “An Instrument” is a step removed from spastic hardcore thrashing, while the title track is a minute-long lo-fi acoustic rumination. There are digital undertones in “The Constant” and “Unwriting Our Songs,” while there are wiry dance-rock riffs in several tunes. The piano makes several important appearances. In short, this album is about as perfect musically as post-hardcore can get. If you like anything even resembling rock, emo, post-hardcore, or hardcore, you need this album. It is that simple.

Now that you’re buying the album (and you are buying the album), we can talk about the more important aspects of Sever Your Roots. Not only is this album near-perfect musically, it’s near-perfect thematically. The Felix Culpa sets up the album like a novel: they set up themes of remorse, longing for home and growing up in the first track, then hit them over and over again in different ways for the rest of the hour that they have your attention. They tell life like it is: there are insecurities, pride, fears, despair and (most of all) hope. This album met me right when I graduated college, and I was (and am) dealing with exactly these things. I think everyone who grew up on punk rock and emo is feeling these things right now, as we all hit mid-to-late twenties (good grief, what are emo kids like at 30?).

The Felix Culpa is the only band I know of that is tackling these issues head-on. Whereas other bands have turned their faces away from the bright lights to look at “greater evils”/easier problems (social ills, class war, or retreading romantic love), The Felix Culpa spent the last three years staring into the sun and dealing with this shit. They are subsequently sunburned and enlightened, which is why the lyrics on Sever Your Roots are the real treasure. As shiver-inducing as it is to hear the choir singing on “Escape to the Mountain, Lest Thou Be Consumed,” it’s more powerful to hear Marky Hladish calmly proclaim “and a day is coming soon when the banner of youth/will be dropped somewhere between/writing songs in our parents’ basement/and basing our lives on what they mean.”

Okay, it does help that there’s polyrhythmic bass and drum work happening under most of these lyrics. The music here is so distinct that it can’t help but lend credibility to the poetry that Hladish is frantically espousing. The drummer is one of the most talented I’ve ever heard, pounding out complex rhythms that I can’t even fathom how to play. The bassist compliments this by not only matching the rhythms but often interlocking his own rhythms into the drummer’s. There are only a few genuine riffs in this album, which is one of the only downsides. The band is too busy being amazing to settle down and let themselves just kick it, like they did on their previous release Thought Control.

Case in point: This album is sixty-eight minutes long, and they still don’t have enough time to beat a riff repetitively for more than twenty or thirty seconds. They simply have too many ideas. A string section makes an appearance for a brief moment in “What You Call Thought Control, I Call Thought Control.” Digital beats snake in and out. Some sort of percussion instrument (a marimba?) makes an appearance on “New Home Lives.” Acoustic guitars carry several short tunes.

There’s just more here than I can possibly discuss. The songs average five minutes in length, with five going over seven minutes. If you count “Escape to the Mountain, Lest Thou Be Consumed” and “First One to the Scene of the Accident Always Gets Blood on His Hands” as one song (which they really are), that one’s over ten minutes long. And every second is packed with rhythms, riffs, melodies, lyrics, poetry and passion. There is zero filler. And on a sixty-eight minute album, that’s absolutely unheard of.

I could write a small book about Sever Your Roots. I’ve listened to it probably a dozen times through, and I’ve listened to “Escape to the Mountain” and “Because This is How We Speak” a dozen extra times each. “Because This is How We Speak” is the heart of the album, where everything gets laid out lyrically. Its one of the simplest musically (which means that I can comprehend what’s happening, but would never be able to do it in a million years); it’s a punch to the gut lyrically and musically, nonetheless. I wish I could run all the lyrics in this space so you could see how amazing they are, but that’s why you’re going to buy the album, so that you hear how amazing they are.

If you like poetry, rock’n’roll or thinking, you need The Felix Culpa’s Sever Your Roots. I waited three years for a masterpiece since their last EP, and lo and behold, one was dropped in my lap. If this isn’t my best album of the year in December 2010, I will have forgotten how amazing this album is or simply witnessed the best year in music ever. This album is in my top ten I’ve ever heard, because Sever Your Roots is the pinnacle of musicianship, lyricism and songwriting to this point in post-hardcore.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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