Emergency: Pro or Con? 

I am so Pro-Emergency!

Emergency is a dangerous band, because they subvert in the most subtle manner. Their lyrics are sung, spoken, and bleated in fresh, chickadee voices (by Ethan Swan and Amy Suzanne Heneveld) that don't sound ominous in the least. But if you read the lyric booklet they hand out at shows (or get one in their new record, The Less I Know), you discover that most of their songs involve poison, either literally or figuratively. They sing about coercion, insecurity, uncomfortability, subjugation, and other weighty topics the government doesn't want you to think about. They sing: "They didn't build it for you/They didn't build it for me They mixed the poison for you/ They mixed the poison for me." They tell you to "Stop jerking around/ Stop stop stop!" If you see them play, Swan will talk about what the songs actually mean. But they say it most astutely in their lyric booklet: "All of this can be explained much better. We are only four people."

Emergency's music represents a series of implicit confrontation, from tight, dance-beat drumming (Paul Dickow) and bass that sounds like laser guns (Ben Lund), to Heneveld's guitar that prods and pokes like knives. All together, the mix approaches something jazz-like, but Emergency is jazz in the same way that Miles Davis is punk rock--they bend the lines of context enough that your brain is stumped by the old switcharoo. Sometimes, your only reaction can be to laugh and dance. Because even though Emergency will make you think, they'll cause you joy, too.

On one level, this makes it so they are a challenge. But, to anyone who's never heard their music, I recommend starting with the side two of The Less I Know. This side contains more disco beats, the unofficial Emergency theme song (in which Swan sings "woo-woo" like a siren), and pretty much all the imperative Emergency show staples that have become huge hits with the kids.

Emergency is dangerous, because they make subversion fun. Indeed, you feel active, or are inspired to feel active, just listening to their record. For that reason, Emergency will never be a hugely popular band. Just imagine the unrest--thousands of kids across America, singing along happily and smashing the state with a dance beat. I'm sure there's some Agency out there that will keep that from ever happening.

Here's another challenge: Try not to glue The Less I Know to your stereo. Try not to sing along. Try not to love them, even if you can't figure out what kind of music they're playing. Try not to jump around like an ant-addled fool when you hear songs like "The Greatest Magnifying Glass is the Splinter in Your Eye" and "Tongues in Their Eyes." It's a dare.

Comments (0)

Subscribe to this thread:

Comments are closed.

From the Archives

Staff Pick Events

Most Commented On

Top Viewed Stories

All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC

115 SW Ash St. Suite 600
Portland, OR 97204

Contact Info | Privacy Policy | Production Guidelines | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy