Jukebox Breakdown: Rites Of Spring – “All Through A Life”
by Chad Jewett
D.C. post-hardcore innovators Rites Of Spring took their name from Igor Stravinksy’s similarly trailblazing ballet The Rite of Spring. The name is apt, not simply because, like the Guy Picciotto-led art-punk band, the first live performance of Stravinksy’s magnum opus was bracingly physical, stunning its audience and leading to a riot amongst concert-goers who were either scandalized or in rapture. That 1913 Paris production of The Rite was met with listeners tearing up theater seats. Rites of Spring shows were similarly emotional experiences: some in the crowd were moved to tears by the stark, poignant confessional of Picciotto’s lyrics. Both offered a certain kind of modernistic catharsis.
Yet on “All Through A Life”, one of the last four songs released by the Washington quartet, Rites of Spring evoked their futurist-classical namesake not only by their sheer power, but also by a swiftly developing mix of angles and quiet beauty. Like The Rite of Spring, “All Through A Life” pivots into loveliness as abruptly as it turns to sharp edges. Much of Rites of Spring’s discography, captured in its entirety on Dischord’s absolutely essential 1991 compilation End On End consists of hardcore deconstructed just so. The band tend to soften and re-shape the famously brusque punk of their hometown on the margins, so that songs like “Drink Deep” innovate mainly by introducing just a bit of extra space, a slight swath of harmony.
But “All Through A Life” offers a tantalizing glimpse at what Picciotto, drummer Brendan Canty (who would go on to join Fugazi along with Picciotto), guitarist Eddie Janney, and bassist Mike Fellows might have produced as they replaced more and more of hardcore’s density with pretty harmonies and less frantic atmosphere. Floating atop a pair of willowy, ethereal guitars that evoke The Cure and The Smiths more than Void or The Faith, “All Through A Life” finds Picciotto’s forever urgent yelp frequently doubled by an airy harmony, the songs rhythm section working the same kind of oblique, choppy grooves that would soon define Fugazi. Indeed, the song’s mix of art punk and romanticist pop (there’s more than a little mid-career Beatles and Odyssey and Oracle-era Zombies in the songs billowing chords) actually ends up anticipating the psych-pop haze of Fugazi’s final (and perhaps greatest) album, The Argument. “All Through A Life” stands as a landmark of one of America’s great punk scenes just rounding into its most brilliant era.