Thursday, 17 July 2008

Converge - Jane Doe

Jane Doe is probably my favourite record ever. If not, it certainly comes close. I wouldn't normally post something like this because I assume that the two or three people that actually bother to read this would be familiar with this album. But then I had this staggering realisation that, you know, there are people who haven't heard this album, or people who, worse, don't "get" it. It saddens me that people are missing out on something so incredible. Well, here's your chance to repent.

Jane Doe is an album and needs to be heard as such. I need to stress the importance of this. It is a cohesive experience, the expression of and expansion upon a single emotion to overwhelming effect. It is highly unlikely that you are going to "get" Jane Doe just by listening to Concubine or The Broken Vow as standalone songs. Every moment in this album contributes to the next, hurtling madly towards those last three minutes of the title track. The album is a perfect example of the powerfully cathartic nature of hardcore: a comprehensive outpour of an emotion, like wringing water from a sponge until nothing is left.

This album is a rollercoaster of emotion recorded in the aftermath of a heartbreak that left Jacob Bannon feeling low and damaged. It shows, because all the associated emotions are there: from the shock, denial and desperation following loss to the ensuing feelings of spite and hatred, the nadir of defeat, depression and self-loathing, the cold grip of loneliness and, tucked away in a corner somewhere but nevertheless present, hope.

The lyrics, for one, are stunning. They don't necessarily match up to the music in a linear fashion - rather, Jacob Bannon writes them like poetry, then uses them as inspiration for the songs, lifting lines and placing them in appropriate places for maximum impact. Take Concubine's desperate cries of "Dear, I'll stay gold just to keep these pasts at bay", Bitter and then Some's vitriolic chant "Death to cowards, traitors and empty words" or the beautiful penultimate part of the title track "Lost in you like Saturday nights/Searching the streets with bedroom eyes/Just dying to be saved" and you have just some examples of Bannon's skilled and heartfelt lyricism. There is a particularly haunting passage in Hell to Pay, as another example, that really sums up the kind of engulfing depression that takes its hold post-heartbreak:

"That night, I think he cried himself to sleep
Just maybe, he felt more than we could ever know
And I think he pulled that trigger to empty that memory
I think he cut the weight to end the floods of you
Let him soar, let him ride as budding gravestones do
Just sleep, girl, just dream well"

Jane Doe, of course, isn't anything without the music. And what sublime music it is: from the discordant opening measures of Concubine the listener is thrown into some of the most intense, chaotic music ever written. The mood varies; from raucous and chaotic in Homewrecker and Bitter and then Some to pensive in Hell to Pay, with its enormous bassline, and epic in Phoenix in Flight. There is a sense of uncontrollable and climactic chaos throughout the album, untamed amounts of passion that are hard to find in any other album. One particular highlight is The Broken Vow, an anthem that finishes on the rousing and desperate chant "I'll take my love to the grave". There are some interesting but also successful experiments on the album such as the eerie "Phoenix in Flames", a short slice of chaos that sees the band stripping themselves down to a core of drums and vocals. Thaw is also particularly climactic with its jarring riff and its crushing closing chord sequence. This still serves as a mere warmup for the album's title track. There's a rather clich├ęd phrase that goes "it's always darkest before the dawn" - to me, much of the song Jane Doe represents that state of rock bottom. It charts that feeling of hopelessness, of being completely lost. There's a moment about 45 seconds into the dirge where Bannon suddenly switches gears into a voice that's so different to his usual scream that it's ethereal, singing "I want out" like a desperate cry for help. It's one of the most incredibly affecting parts of the album. The song repeats itself in a cyclic pattern, spiraling more and more into that pit of despair until something happens - something changes. There's a break in the music, and a wonderful sense of space and release. There is one final chorus, like a sigh put to music, before it kicks in. A searing crescendo that has so much intensity that it could easily rival anything that Godspeed You! Black Emperor have ever written, rising out of the gloom like a phoenix in flight, the culmination of so many things gone wrong but perhaps a sign of determination to move past those events, a sign of hope. And that concludes not only the best album closer these ears have ever heard, but perhaps the best album too. Jane Doe is an album of limitless passion and honesty, an intensely personal statement that stands as an incredible work of art. Whether screaming, chaotic hardcore is your thing or not, take a chance on this album - spend some time with it, get to know it well, and perhaps, soon enough, you too will feel its rewards. If you haven't felt anything by the time that culminating crescendo fades out, you can't be human.

Those nights we had and the trust we lost
The sleep that fled me and the heart I lost
It all reminds me
Just how callous and heartless the true cowards are
And I write this for the loveless
And for the risks we take
I'll take my love to the grave
As tired and worn it is
I'll take my love to the grave
-Converge; The Broken Vow


Anonymous said...

Agree with you on everything. It's a complete masterpiece that everyone should at least give a try to.

Anonymous said...

I got goosebums reading this. Very well written. Thank you for this amazing post

Anonymous said...

Great post man. I felt the exact way in 2002, and it kinda scares me that I still feel the same way listening to the album now.

Robert said...

my fave band, my fave record :)

sebastian buettrich said...

thank you for writing this, and for writing like this.
i m just discovering this incredible album.