In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Our favorite songs under two minutes long.
Kid Dynamite, “Heart A Tact” (1999)
As an avowed lover of punk and it’s assorted offshoots picking a song for this theme was a painstaking process for me. With so many incredible short songs to choose from, where do I even begin? I let the question rattle around in my brain for days before I at least settled on a band: Kid Dynamite. But making that decision only complicated matters all the more. After all, excluding covers and live tracks, Kid Dynamite only ever recorded five songs that surpass the two-minute mark, some of which only crack that ceiling by a second or two.
After culling through the band’s discography I was left with two options: “Two For Flinching” and “Heart A Tact.” The former is a 10-second ripper that somehow finds a way to use every tool in Kid Dynamite’s shed. There’s the punchy guitar intro, a punky blast beat section, a bass breakdown, and finally a sing-along. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the band and all its strengths, but despite all this, the more fully formed “Heart A Tact” still remains the best declaration in the band’s oeuvre.
Kid Dynamite always excelled at mixing styles, and “Heart A Tact” is a master class in pop-focused hardcore. It’s structure isn’t far from “Two For Flinching,” but its execution—and added length—make each moment pop in ways it’s shorter compatriot never could. Dan Yemin’s riff seems to be in perpetual motion at the start, and when he lets his chords ring out, David Wagenschutz uses a hurricane of a drum roll to keep it all together. As great as these furious first 30 seconds are, it’s the track’s back-half that makes it one of hardcore’s all-time greatest sing-alongs.
After that opening salvo the song stops dead and transforms into one minute-long chorus. It’s a change that comes so fast it’s likely to induce whiplash as Yemin goes from a frantic flurry to massive palm-muted chugging. It’s here that vocalist Jason Shevchuk is able to show off his range as he goes from vicious growls to actual—albeit gravely—singing. And it all starts with one simple question: “Just how many are there on my side?”
The one time I was lucky enough to see the band, and this moment hit, it was electrifying. The crowd seemed possessed, with people climbing speaker stacks to stage dive, and a few folks grabbing full trashcans and throwing them across the room. The excitement was palpable, and the second Shevchuk posed that question the audience’s collective voice overtook the band.
It’s a show I think of often for all its brief, beautiful glory. As I recall, the band was given an hour-long set but didn’t even come close to filling it, even with 25 songs packed in. It’s that same short-and-sweet nature that has made “Heart A Tact” raise the hairs on the back of my neck for over a decade now. It’s that sense of fleeting perfection and soul-consuming excitement that’s so rarely found, and Shevchuk’s lyrics so bluntly address when he wonders, “When it’s over will it start again?” It’s all the more fitting that the song’s gang-vocal chant of “I’m coming alive / Alive through you” succinctly explains music’s magical nature. Though the highs are only momentary, the rush of a perfect song can last far longer than its actual length. And when it’s over you can always start again.