Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Paint It Black celebrated “Memorial Day” by reflecting on its own battles

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, in honor of the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend, we’re talking about songs with holidays in their names.

Paint It Black, “Memorial Day” (2005)

Dan Yemin is an old man playing a young man’s game. Having been active in the hardcore scene since the early ’90s as the guitarist for Lifetime—and, later, Kid Dynamite—Yemin is often considered an elder statesman of the scene, but one that’s never stopped playing an active role in the youth movement. In 2001 he had a stroke, and after a year of being removed from music thanks to Kid Dynamite’s breakup, he traded his guitar for a microphone, launching Paint It Black and naming its first record CVA—the abbreviation for cerebrovascular accident. It’s here that Yemin began to dig deep into his psyche, using hardcore as a means of wrestling with middle age.

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While CVA made quick work of 17 songs in just over 18 minutes, it was Paint It Black’s sophomore album, Paradise, that saw the music as matured as Yemin’s subject matter. Like CVA not a single song on Paradise breaks the two-minute mark—the band’s third album, New Lexicon, shattered that ceiling—but each finds a way to stretch the band’s sound without lessening its impact. Melodic guitar lines are on full display throughout, showing that guitarist Colin McGinniss—who had previously been a roadie for Kid Dynamite—had taken ample notes from Yemin on how to make anger melodious.

For most of Paradise Yemin is outwardly obsessed with war and divorce, two types of conflict that, at any moment, make it hard to parse whether he’s discussing the invasion of Iraq or the separation from his wife. When the album reaches its end, “Memorial Day” summarizes its dueling fascinations as Yemin pushes the two concepts together, referencing lost limbs and asking, “Who’s keeping count of the casualties?” in a manner that’s both personal and worldly. It speaks to his knack for boiling big concepts down to punchy thoughts, allowing him to make a hardcore record that both kids and adults can relate to.

It’s what happens in the middle of “Memorial Day” that makes a record consumed by loss become triumphant. When it appears that the band is headed toward a crushing breakdown, it goes for the opposite. Instead of letting all that rage consume it, the track slowly pulls back, layer by layer, until there’s nothing left. Sparked by Andy Nelson’s choppy bass line, McGinniss quickly jumps in with a fist-pumping lead. As David Wagenschutz assaults his hi-hats the song seems as if it’s building to some sort of explosion but, instead, it shifts to a sing-along hook.

Joining Yemin for the song’s final declarations is Dave Hause—Paint It Black’s former guitarist who left to start his own band, The Loved Ones, just prior to Paradise. Hause serves as a counterbalance to Yemin’s larynx shredding screams, and as the band works through its final stomp everything gets put on hold as an acoustic guitar enters the mix. As foreign as those warm strums may be on a hardcore record, it’s a means of putting the album’s ethos front and center. As gang vocals rise Paint It Black finds solace in “The unhappy endings and all the false starts.” This chant brings an air of closure to album that’s preoccupied with situations that likely felt insurmountable in their present moment. When that final chord chimes it functions as Paradise’s exhausted exhale, the kind that can only come after working through 14 songs born out of shell shock.

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