Voyage in Coma – You Appear Alongside Me

Voyage in Coma
You Appear Alongside Me
Self Released (available on bandcamp)

I had this weird thing happen to me before I left Washington DC for Albuquerque. I got a total fit of panic. I knew I would, it was built-in to the last twenty years of my life living in the nation’s capital, grown and bred on the DIY scene that DC is so revered for. I knew I was missing another great wave of great young bands. I had been there long enough to see the Dischord stalwarts pass the baton to my generation. And we aged and grew and passed on our knowledge. I will never forget telling my friend Carni I was leaving, his reaction was “With you and Katy gone, it’s like my parents have left”. It was touching and beautiful and made me realize my presence mattered. But I had seen the new kids emerging, and they were amazing. They felt more intense, more willing to push the boundaries of music and more hungry than I remembered. Maybe that was just age and fatigue, but it was getting amazing again.

One of these young people I met before I left was Henry Mills. The first time I became aware of this young man, he was actually reading poetry at a basement show before a bunch of really loud, really abrasive bands. I had just spent two days previously with the band Turboslut, was going through a terrible break-up and had broken my fake teeth. It was not a bright time in my life, but his scorching, soaring words made an impact on me. He was a true poet, a master of capturing imagery and emotions through language. What’s more is, he had the wherewithal to recite poetry at a punk rock show. That wasn’t something I had seen in a long time. I kept my attention up, wanting to be sure I checked out what this kid was doing.

Apparently it was a lot. Henry was in another band at the time as well as working on a hip-hop project and had his hands in the activist community. He was setting up shows, getting involved and trying to make passionate, meaningful connections with people. Henry was a part of this new generation of multi-faceted, multi-talented people who got involved. Then I saw his band Voyage in Coma play a show. It was a brutal moment of musical fury.

When I got the email from young Mr. Mills that Voyage in Coma had re-emerged from the shadows with a new EP. I got pretty excited. There first outing was an impressive blast of proto-hardcore akin to all the best moments of At the Drive In. I knew the line-up had been retooled and they had been spending their time carefully recreating all things Voyage in Coma. The results are stunning on You Appear Alongside Me.

There aren’t great expanses of breathing room in this six song EP. The songs are epic in structure, felling like a vast, open plane where the guitars tremble and wave on top of crashing drums that are more like the waves of the ocean than percussion. Which is why it’s amazing to feel so short of breath when listening to this music. Even when they are at their lulls, playing pretty and soft, you still feel overcome by the power of it all. There is something so untapped in this music, learnt from years of  living in a post-Fugazi DIY world. The groundwork for this has been laid, but the heights have barely been reached before.

Henry was cool enough to send me lyrics to the songs as well, and the imagery, unfortunately buried sometimes in screams as young men are want to do these days, is amazing. The opening lines of “Predation”, a jagged and cutting song seem to counter act the rage. When singer and lyricist  Steven Kroll screams, “Go back to sleep. Wish for a wilderness without predators.” while I imagine both the serene kind of forests of lush and might greens that the north-east is so privileged to have, I also imagine a Washington DC that is free from the bureaucrats, killers, governors and a stifled skyline of suburbs that grow up and over the beautiful architecture of that city. “The Ethanol Bomb” has the most haunting line I’ve seen in lyrics in a while when they open the bombast with “I did my time/so stop planting dead doves in my pockets”. Where there was never peace, there was never regret and so the antagonist, antagonized comes out hard.

In fact, the band hardly takes a break over the first three tracks. The music a punch and explosion of righteous, youthful rage and anger that was once marketed in the 90’s to us in the form of bands from Seattle and flannel t-shirts stolen from the backs of the working man. But this isn’t that blind, teenage angst that American youth are so privileged to raise without consequence. Instead, the frustration apparent in Voyage in Coma is a learned, educated and well understood cry against so many injustices, that the only release is to bare all into the wind.

The musical language of Voyage in Coma may have been a more common vernacular five years ago, but no one really ever did it this well or with this much grace. Further, the content of so many heart-on-on-our-sleeves-eyeliner-on-our-faces bands of young, white boys had no lasting impact and is mostly forgotten. Those tools that they used, stolen from the likes of Thursday or Braid and manipulated into some fake romance jargon ruined a style of music that actually had some weight and power. Poised with talents of technical skill, historical study, and linguistic understanding, Voyage in Coma has the ability to take some of that back, to recapture and expand upon so much that got lost in the second wave of DIY culture becoming a feeding ground for money hungry opportunists. Bands of this stature in DC have a history of either becoming the stuff of legend or embarrassingly ignored. I hope Voyage in Coma gets the former treatment, because it’s music is bigger than just amps and guitars and boys pissing in the wind.

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