One band that I’m always drawn to at the moment would be Kansas City's Giants Chair, a band who pretty much refined and perfected the Midwestern post hardcore sound. Their approach was very rhythm driven and hard edged, yet musical with more complex song arrangements.
In appraisal of this mid 90s hardcore sound or "emo" (as it was often referred to then) few bands produced anything of lasting value. It’s crazy to think how "emo" has become a term commonplace to describe a fashion obsessed substance free brand of corporate rock. Anyway, many bands were just lacking anything beyond the stylistic traits of tight pants/white socks, paper bag sleeves, lyrics about angels or butterflies, photographs of old typewriters, the "quiet/loud" song template etc. Looking back in 2008 with a more critical eye I'd cite Giants Chair, Hoover, Navio Forge, Drive Like Jehu, Molly McGuire, Sideshow, Franklin, Current and Gravity Records as providing the more challenging and creative music from the mid 90s era. Rooting around a stack of old zines in search of information I found this interview gold from Hanging Like A Hex #8 (early 97) & scanned it as a .pdf :ENJOY:
The first time i took note of the name GIANTS CHAIR was this cool review in Second Nature magazine. It was quite hard even then to get ahold of their records, everytime I tried to pick something up it was always sold out. Fast forward ten years I have eventually tracked most of it down. Starting with "Red and Clear". you can hear an extremely accomplished debut album for the Caulfield record label. For me, the track 1000 of Anything demonstrates how focused and fluid their music sounds.
Giants Chair play circles around the now "legendary" emo bands like Indian Summer, Ordination Of Aaron, Cap n' Jazz etc. Another thing they possesed which many did not was the key ingredient of good songwriting that also rocked. This can be heard even on their first 7", check this track Common Cold which was backed with "Weed Roses", later rerecorded for "Red and Clear". You can DL that whole single thanks to this guy and his blog Rocket Science . Below are scans of Caulfield records ads for "Red and Clear" from HeartattaCk zine.
Unfortunately I am unable to rip the track "Ever Present" from their split 7" with Boys Life which, while excellent, is not enough when used to a full album doseages. One record I picked up in the late 90s (due to my inability to find any Giants Chair) was "In Passing" by The Farewell Bend who featured Giants Chair drummer Paul Ackerman and the guitarist and bassist of Boys Life. Well worth checking out, especially for Hüsker Dü fans!
One thing to note is that most Giants Chair records were packaged in beatifully minimal letterpress printed sleeves designed by guitarist Scott Hobart, he discusses this element further in this interview. The most impressive sleeve design appears on their second full length "Purity and Control" which was recorded in 1996 by Duane Trower (Season To Risk guitarist). His production is excellent, with a very open mix detailing each instrument & the guitar sound in particular just shreds! This album in my opinion is their masterstroke, everything seems measured out to create the exact dynamic or mood. The Instrumentation weaves almost seemlessly, nothing here sounds awkward or out of place. The natural ability these guys have to bring forth a perfect expression or feeling is inspiring to hear. The Speech is one of my favourite tracks from "Purity and Control", the middle eight (or end eight?) they drop into at the end of the track just sounds so awesome! The lyrics are definitely better on this album but are still oblique with no discernable subject matter other than personal stream of conscious. More importantly it fits with the music like a glove.
The first time I really heard Giants Chair was their split 7" with Ethel Meserve in Tree’s Postmarked Stamps series. Not really representative of their sound, the track Lost Dauphin is a guitar and bass instrumental with faint sounds of a pen scribbling overlayed. The track remains placid until the final note when distortion kicks in with a kickdrum hit, a cymbal rings out and then it's gone.
Giants Chair tributes are few and far between but Shiner titled a track "Giant’s Chair" on their "Starless" album & Cave In (the only band capable of handling a cover) recorded a rendition of The Callus on the "Tides of Tomorrow" EP. Aside from that it seems kinda rare to hear their name mentioned. In an ideal world someone should release a Discography collection because this shit shines like a beacon. I believe the band began playing again last year, see photo below from this year. The bands myspace page has other recent live shots and some other background but if anyone has any information, live recordings etc. please get in touch.
I guess people would call this emo for lack of a better term, but it's not at all what you would expect emo to sound like compared to current standards. In the 90's a lot of bands fell under the emo tag because they didn't fit neatly under the "indie rock" tag, and I think Giants Chair are one of those bands that defied classification to a certain extent.
Anyway, this record is full of tight almost mechanically precise drumming, churning rhythms, excellent guitar playing and of course emotional vocals. I recommend you listen to this record a few times and let it sink in, but if you want a quick fix go straight to the 3rd track "Gutshot and The Jogger" which is probably my favorite song on this record, I really like how the song builds on itself as it progresses...
Giant's chair is difficult to describe. Historically, you might place them in the whole Midwest emo/post-hardcore rubric. I know that's a loaded term, so let me explain.
When I say emo/post-hardcore, I mean the cultural values that came out of the punk emocore movement: authenticity, highly personalized lyrics, which are often abstract, poetic, and reflective. Scott Hobart (vocalist) has a wonderful vocal presence, I think mid-range, who usually resorts to yelling (no screaming though), but his approach never comes across like a cheap gimmick, but as a preferred mode of expression.
Catharsis is highly regarded value as well. And Giant's Chair is no exception. Many of their songs, especially "New Orleans" and "Mother Brother Sister Lover" and "Gunshot and Jogger" epitomize this musical element by using an abundance of dissonant melodies and counter-point to build tension. At some point the tension SNAPS and a new anthemic melody is brought to the fore, providing a sense of release that can be emotionally powerful for some.
Giant's chair is quite adept at this, and what makes them more amazing is their ability to couple this character trait with what sounds like a very technical guitar and drum style. I have heard this technical style described as "angular."
I suppose if "angular" were meant as irregular changes in rhythm, time signatures, strangely placed rested, and so on, then I would say yes, Giant's Chair is has a very angular and even jagged sound, but not so much that listening is a chore.
Indeed, among the thousands of songs I have on my computer, theirs are quite a unique treat. Highly recommended.
P.S. If you like this album hunt down their other album "Purity and Control." It's not AS good as "Red and Clear" but it is still VERY admirable.
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