In early November, the Japanese post-hardcore band Envy released a two-song digital single titled Alnair In August. I wrote about the record when it came out, and I started off by saying this:
If you listen to heavy music circa now, you know Envy. Even if you’ve never actually listened to Envy, you’ve heard them. The Japanese post-hardcore band is almost singlehandedly responsible for the sound called blackgaze. Envy’s progeny include countrymen Heaven In Her Arms, Denmark’s Møl, Austria’s Harakiri For The Sky, Ottawa’s Unreqvited, Toronto’s Respire, Australia’s Woods Of Desolation, and California’s Deafheaven, along with countless other bands across additional continents.
Not long after that story went live, I got an email from one of the acts I’d identified by name as being among Envy’s “progeny”: the Toronto-based screamo/blackgaze/post-rock band Respire. They told me they were flattered to see their name in a story about Envy. “As you can imagine,” they wrote, “Envy has been a favorite of ours since we were teenagers.” The timing was especially fortuitous, as they’d just covered an old Envy song for a new tribute album. They’d also made a video for the track, and asked if I might share it on Stereogum, saying:
As [Respire] members Egin and Rohan are first-generation immigrants in Canada (Egin from Japan, Rohan from India), we wanted to weave a message about immigration into the video.
I said “yes” before even listening to the song or watching the video. Envy are one of the best bands on the planet, and Respire are one of the most exciting new bands I heard in 2018. Now, I know, Respire aren’t technically new: They’ve been making music since 2014. But their 2018 album, Dénouement, served as my introduction to the band, and I get the impression I’m not alone in that regard. Dénouement came out in May and, in my microscopically tiny corner of the world, it felt almost omnipresent from that moment forward. And rightly so. It’s fantastic! If I had to describe its sound in a sentence, I’d say that it’s grand, cinematic, Deafheaven-esque post-metal featuring acoustic orchestral instrumentation similar to the Rodan-associated chamber-music group Rachel’s or even … Neutral Milk Hotel? That’s what I hear, at least. (I’d describe Respire as “Deafheaven x Neutral Milk Hotel,” actually, if I weren’t afraid of my glib comparison causing some coronaries among the Stereogum commentariat.)
That instrumentation isn’t the only thing distinguishing Respire from their peers, but it’s a big thing. See, like, I love Unreqvited, for example, but there are a lot of “string” sections in that guy’s music, and it’s pretty obvious all those sounds were created with either a synthesizer or a computer. Still great! Unreqvited make great music! It just sounds very different than the music made by Respire.
Anyhow, once I actually checked out Respire’s Envy cover, I couldn’t wait to share it. The song in question is “Go Mad And Mark,” from Envy’s 2003 LP A Dead Sinking Story: probably Envy’s most universally beloved album. Now, it is almost fundamentally impossible to cover Envy. Their music is dense and complicated and supremely beautiful, but much of its power derives from its sound. If one were to alter the arrangements or the approach, one would almost invariably be left with a lesser piece of music. If one were to try to exactly recreate Envy’s arrangements and approach, one would produce an inessential facsimile of a magical original.
Respire, on the other hand, employ their unique inherent strengths in ways that truly pay tribute to Envy. The Canadian band’s version of “Go Mad And Mark” is a thing of astonishing beauty. It might be superior to the original. It might be my favorite Respire recording to date. Whether it achieves those heights, though, is beside the point. In seven and a half minutes, it captures the elusive majesty of both bands. Envy should be flattered. Respire should be proud. You should listen.
Respire’s Egin shared with me the following statement about the song/video, and I wanted to include it here, because it adds considerable depth to the project (far beyond my comparatively superficial assessment). Here’s Egin:
Paying tribute to Envy’s “Go Mad And Mark” quickly became more than doing just a cover. I grew up in Japan after leaving my home country of Albania, and Japanese was my second language — a language I lost after coming to Canada in 2001.
Our (myself and Rohan’s) first-gen immigrant background drives to the very core of who we are as people, artists, community organizers, and members. Coming to North America, our place as young immigrants in the 2000s was complicated by rising nationalist anti-immigrant, anti-muslim rhetoric. As we’ve come to face this brand of hate directly in 2018 (in our community and online, in the form of threats, intimidation, and trolling) we’re continuously reminded of our place as immigrants in our own country.
The thing is, we won’t be shamed for being immigrants. Our parents’ immigrant story is one of courage, sacrifice, and strength in overcoming the unyielding alienation / isolation / struggles of diaspora. We wanted to shed light on this experience and stand proud as immigrants.
The Envy/Love tribute comp is available now via Zegema Beach Records.