Redoing this one.
These days there are two kinds of hardcore that are often maligned and paid little notice: straight edge and melodic hardcore. This wasn't always the case. In the late 1990s, the USA saw a youth crew revival featuring bands like Ten Yard Fight, In My Eyes, Right Brigade, Floorpunch, The First Step, Fastbreak. The mid 2000s saw the boom of melodic hardcore bands like Champion and really, the entire Rivalry Records roster. In the middle of all this was Carry On. Here's what can be said for Carry On that a lot of people don't say and should: 1) they are lyrically the best straight edge band ever and 2.) the music on A Life Less Plagued effectively broke the melodic hardcore genre.
Formed in 1996 and lasting until 2001, Carry On hailed from Los Angeles. The band featured vocalist Ryan George, guitarists Todd Jones & Corey Williams, bass player Jon Westbrook, and drummer Lucas McFadden (Terror founding member Nick Jett would also feature for the band). The aforementioned line up is what would hit the studio to record A Life Less Plagued. Before this, the band had other personnel come and go (including guitarist Jordan Johnson RIP) and the music was not quite what it would be, but it was still straight forward hardcore able to stand up to their peers in quality. The CD compilation It's All Our Blood, released by Youngblood Records, highlights the early years of Carry On. Even on these early releases you can hear the strengths of the band: George's lyrics and Jones' guitar work. George's lyrics were pointed and hostile, bearing the markings of a lot of the straight edge bands of the day. He had a bone to pick with the world and was ready to fight over it. Jones' guitar work across his career is some of hardcore's most beloved. After Carry On, he would go on to be a founding member of Terror, Betrayed, Snake Eyes and Nails (and I'm probably forgetting some others).
Carry On is an immortal band and it is because of what happened on their debut full-length A Life Less Plagued that cemented their position in the stars. Earlier I said Carry On was lyrically the best straight edge band ever. On A Life Less Plagued, George's lyrics take on a completely different tone than any other straight edge band before them (or after, for that matter). They're not uplifting, preaching positivity, or even combative toward anyone in particular. They're lost, despondent, and cynical. George's lyrics hit a chord about someone who had spent years of his life fighting a lost cause and for what? He doesn't feel a part of something or better for it. As a hardcore kid gets older, this feeling becomes more prevalent and harder to ignore. We have to see people around us get married, have kids, buy houses, and settle in as we get older. Meanwhile, we stop to look around at what we have and ask if it was all worth it. Sometimes we can talk ourselves into it and say 'yes it was', but most of the time we feel like George does on A Life Less Plagued. That's what makes them so important. They're not a regurgitation of some doctrine about brotherhood or a philosophy. The lyrics are the result of hardcore coming into contact with time. This is most true on the album's final song "Rethinking". The song's lyrics tell the story about a straight edge kid who is finally hit by the realities of life and understands that hardcore does not exist in a vacuum and that real life happens to people. The closing lines, clever allusions to straight edge heroes Mouthpiece and Judge, encapsulates the disconnect in hardcore over time, "with what was said and what it meant, what did it have to do with me anyways?" "Rethinking" is this generation's "Salad Days" and it says a whole hell of a lot more about what growing up in hardcore feels like than Ian MacKaye's "I'm bored with it".
The second part of the album that sticks out is Todd Jones' guitar work. Jones' guitar work on A Life Less Plagued broke melodic hardcore. After the release of this album, everyone else in the melodic hardcore game spent the next 6-7 years chasing Jones and trying to come close to A Life Less Plagued. Imagine the part from Iron Man when Jeff Bridges' character is trying fruitlessly to rebuild an Iron Man suit and not being able to understand how Tony Stark was able to build one, and that's the story of melodic hardcore since Carry On. The guitar work on A Life Less Plagued has its own life. From the first note, Jones is able to dominate the entire album, not letting up, and best of all able to capture the feelings being exuded by George. On "So Much Of You", Jones' hooks are as memorable as the fills. On "Rethinking", he plays a grand build up to close out the song / album. The chemistry between Jones / George on A Life Less Plagued is special. Listening to Jones' guitar work on this album tells the story of an entire genre. Everything in melodic hardcore that would come after Carry On, by way of guitar work, was everyone else trying to reverse engineer what Jones had done.
This not to say that the rest of the band didn't put in memorable performances. Drummer Lucas McFadden plays fast and precise and puts in some of the best snare work on a hardcore album. On "Waiting On Forever" & "Killing A Sound", the rhythm section, conducted by Jones' leads, kick into some great breaks.
A Life Less Plagued is a perfect album. We use this term a lot to talk about albums, past, present, and future, but how often can you really say it every year without even second guessing it? There won't be another seminal melodic hardcore band going forward, let alone another Carry On. Bands who try to emulate George's lyrics will likely miss the point and take his feelings for simple sadness or some kind of misplaced anger. The lyrics on A Life Less Plagued are some of the most sober perspectives on life in, and after, the subculture. Jones' guitar work defined and broke a genre. That sounds like a pretty bold statement, but name a melodic hardcore band since Carry On that has come close to what Jones was doing on A Life Less Plagued. You can't. Carry On is a band that becomes more important and real for a hardcore kid as they get older.
Included is It's All Our Blood & A Life Less Plagued.