Embrace - (1987)
The band's one album, taken from two separate mid-'80s recording sessions, finds the fusion of Faith's instrumentalists and Minor Threat's singer -- Ian MacKaye himself, older brother of Faith's singer Alex -- a successful enough blast of post-hardcore. It's no surprise per se that MacKaye wanted to push himself more strongly in future; compared to Fugazi, Embrace is fine but nowhere near as gripping or inventive. As a vehicle for his righteous, cutting lyrics and strong voice, though, it's more than fine. With engineering help from the legendary Don Zientara, everything's well-recorded and produced, MacKaye clearly cutting through the heavy band crunch. Interestingly, the instruments that come through the best are Ivor Hanson's drums, a neat switch around from the usual domination via guitar. Not that Michael Hampton's work sounds weak or poor; if anything, he brings a sharp turn-of-the-'80s U.K. style to fore, with the understated inventiveness of John McGeoch's early work in Magazine and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Consider his exuberant performance on "Dance of Days," both fiery and just pretty enough. Compared to both Faith's and Minor Threat's work in general, Embrace tries for something a touch poppier and a little less immediately frenetic, like a pause for breath after a full-on rampage. MacKaye's lyrical aim dwells as much on personal concerns and a search for courage as much as anything, continuing the themes of earlier efforts as "Look Back and Laugh." "Building" revolves around self-accusations of failure, while the shimmering, reverb-touched drive of "Do Not Consider Yourself Free" urges vigilance with the realization that "there are others held captive." It's not quite the birth of emo -- if anything, Rites of Spring found themselves saddled with that peculiar honor -- but it's easy enough to imagine more than a few '90s bands taking the words as holy writ.