As Dr. Digits correctly noted, over the last 20 years or so, each of us has carved new music listening paths that currently stand on opposite ends of the heavy spectrum.
After high school I started listening to emo and what I will call emo-pop. The whiney, yet catchy sounds of emo led me to punk. The chugging bar chords and fast tempo of punk gradually opened the doors to the more aggressive, raging sounds of hardcore and metal, illuminating an entirely new world of musicians, musicianship, and lyrical content.
The musical path of Dr. Digits excluded the more aggressive and louder bands, evidenced by his Simon and Garfunkel assignment for me. This is EXACTLY why I am having him review The Shape of Punk to Come from Refused, a Sweden-based outfit that has a “bone to pick with capitalism.”
Some personal background on this album… It came out in 1998, but I didn’t hear it until 2001 when I started to make the music transitions from emo to punk to hardcore. This album made “screaming” music a permanent fixture on my historical music listening timeline. The Shape opened up so many new doors that greatly and gratefully diversified my musical investment portfolio. Without Refused, I may have never enjoyed the likes of Every Time I Die, one of my favorite bands. This seminal Refused album had a lasting influence on an entire generation of “underground” punk/hardcore/rock bands. Let’s see what kind of influence it had on Dr. Digits…..
Let’s get right into my (J) interview with Doctor Digits (D) about Refused and The Shape of Punk to Come….
J: What was your mindset before listening to this album? What confirmation bias, if any, did you have before listening?
D: I knew you’d give me something loud so I was prepared for that. I didn’t think you’d do ‘scream’ music or ‘scream o’ because I don’t think you’re all the way into that but I knew it’d be loud and I was right. I also admit I don’t entirely know what scream music is nor scream-o.
J: For the record, “scream-o” typically refers to bands that sound like hard rock bands, maybe with some emo tendencies, but they have random growls and screams at certain points of the song. Here is a good example where the chorus features the growling-esque vocals. Refused is more of a “hardcore” band. I know, I know. The genre naming thing is so dumb.
J: What were you doing while listening to this album? Mowing the yard? Were you driving around with the windows down so everyone could hear the build up to the chorus in “LIberation Frequency”?
D: Such a great stage of life question. This is something I was acutely aware of since I had an idea of what kind of music you were going to send me. I listened mainly in my car which I thought was about right. If I had listened in my home my whole family would’ve disowned me. I made my wife listen to the first track with me and she now thinks you’re crazy and if my kids had heard any of the vocal work from the lead singer, I don’t think they would have ever thought of me the same again.
J: If your wife thinks I am crazy for Refused, I probably shouldn’t send you any of the other stuff I listen to, or she may never talk to me again. I thought you might say that if your kids had heard it, they would be asking you about the relationship between factory floors and capitalism. Hilarious joke, i know.
J: Did you conduct any kind of research on Refused before listening?
D: None at all. Though when I read out loud the name of the band and the name of the album upon seeing them both I couldn’t help but laugh at the unintentional comedy of a band trying their hardest to sound important.
After listening to the album, however, I stumbled upon a top 50 albums of 1998 list from Pitchfork Media (because of course, they’d do a list like that) and I was glad to see Refused in the top 30 if I remember correctly.
J: Yes, the name of the album is extremely arrogant. I don’t know if their influence thereafter is commensurate with shaping punk to come, but the album did make a significant impact in the punk, hardcore, and emo scenes.
D: Okay, I really dug the intro to track 1. It had some ‘Dazed and Confused’ vibes to it. Honestly, the first minute of the album gave me hope that I was going to kind of like what I was going to hear the rest of the way which was not what I expected to feel at all throughout the entire album.
Two other things went through my head as well. Like the first track, many others reeled me in with a soft, instrumental intro and then I was blasted back into my car seat every time the lead singer started singing. This made me think of the scene in Elf where Buddy is testing out the Jack in the Boxes and is scared every time even though he knows what’s coming and it also brought back memories of this glorious scene from This is Spinal Tap.
J: Did you look up the lyrics to the songs, or did you try to identify what words you could in real-time? Regardless of how you audibly processed the lyrics, what was/is your reaction to their lyrics?
D:I did not look up the lyrics to any of the songs. I have a funny relationship with lyrics – when they matter to me, they *really* matter but when they’re not why I’m listening to a song or a band then I really don’t care.
I figured out what the album and band were about in a couple of spots where I could understand what was being said but their message really didn’t jump out at me and when I did hear what they were saying, their message was pretty straightforward.
J: How would you describe the music, excluding the vocals?
D: Well I have to talk about the vocals, sorry. But I’ll be brief.
I will never listen to this album again because of the vocals but I also have such a respect for their singer because of his vocals. It’s quite the paradox.
The guy is supremely talented. Just like older generations would listen to a rap song and say, “Well they’re just talkin’! I could do that!” I feel like many people would listen to this album and say that guy is just yelling, but he’s not. Or if he is, he’s really good at it. He’s also a good singer when he’s not yelling.
I laughed out loud a couple of times while listening to the album and thinking of this band being formed but the singer being the last piece of the puzzle and the other bandmates running through a bunch of auditions before (insert lead singer’s name) comes in and shocks everybody by just yelling. There’s an SNL skit in there somewhere.
I think the range of the speaker’s voice speaks to the range of the album. They put together a nice record if I can allow myself to sound pompous. They really thought it out, put thought into the message they wanted to convey (though I’m mainly taking your word for it here), had cool interludes between certain tracks that helped the album flow as one giant piece of music and they showed all they were capable of musically, especially on the last track which was much more relaxed than all the others. Though strangely not my favorite on the album.
And I’m actually a phony when it comes to talking about music because I have no idea what makes a good guitarist, drummer, bass player, etc., but it sure seems to me that these guys are really good at their respective instruments. The drummer mainly stuck out to me but I don’t know if it’s just because he was banging his drums really loud or because he was just good. I’m sure it’s the latter.
J: I think the drummer is probably the best at his craft in the group. He is really, really good. To be honest, I also hated the screaming when I first heard it. But the music was so good to me, the vocals just became an inescapable piece of the overall package. Eventually, I enjoyed the vocals and this album became the gateway to many other similar-sounding bands and genres.
J; Which songs stood out? For good or bad, why did these songs stand out?
D: The first one for sure. The first one let me immediately know that I wasn’t going to hate this album but also that I would never listen to it again.
I don’t think there were any bad ones, per se, but I would say that the last song could’ve been better. I thought it was cool they gave us all a break with bringing out an acoustic song at the end but I didn’t think it was that great of a song.
J: Did you spot the 15 or so seconds on this album that are now used during hype moments at many sporting events?
D:I did not but this is one of the points I wanted to make about the album so I’m glad you brought this up – It’s a treasure trove of ‘walk up’ songs since just about every track starts off light and then comes in heavy. I too often ponder what song I would use for a walk up song so I guess the biggest compliment I can give this album is that I would put a few of its tracks in my pool of options for whenever I resurrect my softball career.
J: Well, at sporting events today you can often hear about 15 seconds from the 1:05 mark of the song “New Noise.”
J: Any parting words for Refused, who are anxiously awaiting this blog post?
D: I keep giving the backhanded compliment of ‘I didn’t hate it’ which isn’t an accurate depiction of my thoughts of this album. I guess it’s better to say that I can see why somebody who likes this kind of music would like it. If I ever see someone down the road with a Refused T shirt on they’ll getting a knowing nod of respect from me. You can count on that.
J: Yes! You are part of a special club now.