Written by Kirk
Champenoise – Lost
> Emotive post-hardcore/indie rock/shoegaze
> New Jersey, US
> September 22
> Syrup Moose Records
In case you haven’t already heard, this is “The Year of the Moose.” No, I’m not talking about some silly made-up day to honor some esoteric, niche thing that a handful of people of Facebook and a tiny, nigh-forgotten subreddit collectively celebrate. I’m talking about the first anniversary of the record label that started out as a joke and ended up becoming a tour de force, Syrup Moose Records. The only record label I know of that has “No Fucking Nazis” both in its motto and at its core. And it’s also the only record label I know of that’s been able to pump out a whopping 44 releases in it’s first year. That’s one (1) year. I don’t care who you are, that’s impressive!
One of my first reviews for Noob Heavy was of TH Speedball’s album I’m Destined for Greatness but My Brain is on Fire, one of those 44 releases in Syrup Moose Records’ first year and the first of Jon Steinberg’s releases for this calendar year. While TH Speedball is his primary outlet for music, he’s proven the point I made back in March: “he eats, sleeps, and breathes music.” In addition to his endeavors under the moniker of TH Speedball, Jon has also released music under the names of Hatchback Convertible, City Break Dancer Man, and Champenoise. And he has released music through each of these different projects this year, proving his brain is indeed on fire.
“What is Champenoise?” I’m so glad you asked! If TH Speedball is the bedroom pop equivalent of Ian MacKaye’s Minor Threat, then think of Champenoise as the equivalent of the lesser-known post-hardcore project Embrace. A more melodic and mature approach to hardcore punk, Embrace helped to usher in what became known as “emotive hardcore” or “emocore” (a label MacKaye has publicly disagreed with). Whether or not Mr. MacKaye agrees with that label is neither here nor there; “emotive hardcore,” “emocore,” or just “emo” music is here to stay.
The reality of punk rock is this: we can’t all be angsty teenagers forever. That’s what post-hardcore is all about: raising hell in a more civilized manner. If punk rock is a rough cut diamond, then post-hardcore is a finely-polished gemstone, reflecting perfectly the light cast upon it. When listening to Champenoise’s debut album, Lost, it’s fairly easy to draw this particular comparison. There is a rich, lush quality to these songs that you won’t find on a TH Speedball record (which is, believe it or not, entirely the point). To quote Jon himself, “These songs describe turning 30 and feeling like you don’t know where to go from there. Like all the answers you’ve found don’t quite add up to what you were looking for.” Because, unfortunately, that’s a lot of what growing up is about: realizing the world isn’t this finely-tuned machine into which you can throw a penny and get a wish in return. Instead, it’s a loud, dirty, oily machine that, for the most part, eats happiness and joy and spits out bitterness and disease.
From the opening guitar riff of the title track, you immediately realize this is not the Jon Steinberg you thought you knew. There is a directness to this song, an emotional rawness to it like that of an exposed nerve. Things are more focused—more deliberate—and much more refined than on the demo released last December. All throughout this record there is a sense of expediency, a rush to hold onto and cherish these precious, fleeting moments of life. But, even in that sense of urgency, there is an understanding that these moments are unique and important, pivotal parts of that ever-present sword of Damocles called “adulthood.” Because life is meaningless when we don’t take the time to stop and appreciate the myriad experiences that are around us at all times. Because you never know when those opportunities won’t be there anymore; each and every one, regardless of how big or small, is important and helps define what it means to be alive.
I don’t know if it’s the way this album is mixed or the way the vocals were recorded, but Jon’s signature bark is sharper on Lost, perhaps by design. His voice is reminiscent of Daniel Higgs on those early Lungfish albums, full of righteous anger and disdain. And the instruments are much farther forward in the mix, the guitar, bass, drums, and synths all stand out throughout the entire album (seriously, shout-out to my man KM North, who did a great job mastering this record). And while this is very clearly post-hardcore through and through, there are elements of modern indie rock and shoegaze in that whole wall-of-sound approach. If the bedroom punk of TH Speedball isn’t really your speed, you don’t want to pass on Lost; Champenoise is a hop, skip, and leap ahead of pretty much everything else Jon has released thus far.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s a rare treat for an artist to release an honest-to-goodness coming-of-age record. Jon Steinberg did that on March 17 of this year with I’m Destined for Greatness but My Brain Is on Fire. It’s even more rare for an artist to repeat that milestone within their career. Rarer still is the ability to do it again within the same year as the first record. Truly, we stand in the presence of greatness, but the true feat is to recognize the greatness in all of us. That’s what’s at the heart of Jon’s music, that sense of wonder and adventure that comes when we reach the point in life where we have to stop, look around, and say, “Now what?” Because that is the one universal truth of life: no one knows exactly what they’re doing. But, with the help of friends, family, and a sense of community, we can figure it out.