Starting Five: Mineral

Mineral EndSerenading

More or less an opportunity for the Internet to tell us we’re wrong, Starting Five is also a challenge: choose five essential songs, films, or books that get to the heart of bands, filmmakers, and writers that we love. Today, in honor of the (long overdue) reissue of their classic albums EndSerenading and The Power of Failing, we choose five essential songs from emo legends Mineral.

Starting Five: Mineral

by Chad Jewett

“Five Eight and Ten”, The Power of Failing

As signature a passage of second-wave emo as the pick-slide intro of “Holiday” or the buzzing radio wash of “The New Nathan Detroits”, the flinty, spiraling arpeggios that begin “Five Eight and Ten,” the first song from Mineral’s classic debut, The Power of Failing, have become indelible. Building and stretching until the song jolts forward into a fleet second verse, a surprisingly spry guitar solo (up there with the brilliant, punchy leads of Stay What You Are in the archive of post-hardcore guitar work), and cresting to an outsized denouement, the song is one of Mineral’s more structured compositions and a confident, comprehensive step into the expressive confessionalism and loud-quiet-loud swings of The Power of Failing. Like so many of Mineral’s songs, “Five Eight and Ten” moves from the anxieties of the everyday (“Now I wonder if I can even move or breathe without disappointing someone”) to a certain kind of exaggerated, mythic pathos (“I walked along beside the purple mountains beneath the orange sky / Imagined what it all might look like with these planks out of my eyes”), a skyward trajectory matched by the song, which always spans bigger and bigger.

“Slower” The Power of Failing

If “Five Eight and Ten” moved upward and onward with the steady trajectory of Joshua Tree-era U2 (and, really, U2 is a pretty salient model for the type of emotionally mythos that Chris Simpson swings for throughout his work with Mineral), then “Slower” works in the angular, herky-jerky cubism of D.C. post-hardcore, cleanly strummed passages suddenly bent with feedback like mid-career Jawbox, quiet passages hewn by sudden bursts. The song is among the longest on The Power of Failing, but unlike, say, “Silver”, it fills that time not by cycling toward a final flare-up but by instead heaving between extremes, adding up to the most thrilling moments on the album, especially in a late left turn when an ultra-minimal patch of bass, snare, and prickly guitar is suddenly interrupted by a dissonant squall and a dense, roomy outro. If The Power of Failing is always about the throws of emotional confusion, then “Slower” might just be its signature moment – literalizing all that fraught sentimentality with sharp, tense punk.

“Sadder Star”, The Complete Collection (B Side)

Unlike contemporaries Jimmy Eat World or Christie Front Drive (fellow second wave emo greats hailing from west of the Mississippi), Mineral rarely focused on structure or the reified mechanics of songwriting. The Power of Failing had melodies, but they were often ambling and occasionally free-form in ways that made Mineral challenging whereas most of the band’s compatriots were quick to sugar their best work with Type A hooks (it’s still tough, for instance, to digest that Clarity initially flopped). “Sadder Star” on the other hand, was a compact, efficient three minutes of melodic punk – evidence that the elliptical songwriting of The Power of Failing was a chosen direction rather than a lack thereof. Written and recorded before most of the band’s best-known material, “Sadder Star” is sharp and quicker than just about anything else Mineral would produce, a variably jangly and booming three minutes of post-grunge that was once buried on a comp but now sounds absolutely killer as a sudden burst of energy between the dramatics of The Power of Failing and the slow-phase subtleties of EndSerenading.

“Love Letter Typewriter”, EndSerenading

Eschewing the grand gestures of The Power of Failing for something more ruminative and impressionistic, EndSerenading is (for my money) Mineral’s masterpiece, a brilliant slow-core album disguised as one of emo’s most glacial, haunted entries. “Lover Letter Typewriter”, the album’s crisp, minimalist opener, flaunts a lovely sonic structure made up of the sort of cycling, interlocking guitar lines that American Football would inject with jazz and avant-classical shadings to more recognized effect on their debut. Lacking drums and building through accumulated harmonies and gloaming studio sound, “Love Letter Typewriter” also features of one Simpson’s finer melodies, paired to one of his most direct lyrics: “Will you ever know how much I love you?”. As a statement of purpose and an impressively imaginative reimagining of post-hardcore – one that prized texture and dimension over sudden bursts – “Love Letter Typewriter” is just about peerless, and an absolute classic.

“Sound Like Sunday”, EndSerenading

Crisp and shimmering, and balancing its many moving parts with aplomb (that ticking bass line is especially perfect, set against twinned, jangling guitars), and offering a richly-detailed contrast to Chris Simpson’s wide, elliptical melody (certain words take four seconds to be fully enunciated), “Sound Like Sunday” is as carefully constructed a piece as Mineral would produce. At one point, around the minute-and-a-half mark, the song appears ready to tip into the sort of sudden crescendo that pops up again and again on The Power of Failing, but instead loops back into the same spangling major-key cycle, returning to the song’s initial, pensive quiet and avoiding blunt force for the sake of poignant mood. At one point Simpson sings about changing seasons, but it’s hard to picture anything but fall here, hushed and vaguely melancholy. Like most of EndSerenading, “Sound Like Sunday” is a striking work of ingenuity and craft, and its pleasures are defined by just how adroit Mineral had become at letting small gestures and understated shading build to something moving, without all the big, booming signifiers.

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