Friday, 11 May 2012

Moss Icon

Moss Icon were a post-hardcore/emo band from Annapolis, Maryland, active from 1986-1991. They briefly re-united in 2001, and are currently (2012) planning shows and a formal release of their "Complete Discography" (though it's not exactly complete).

Moss Icon are often cited as one of the precursors of "emo", alongside Rites of Spring, Embrace, etc., though never formally being a part of that scene (they were predominantly active just after, and played shows with Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, and Lungfish more so than the "Revolution Summer" bands). However, their earliest work certainly warrants a comparison. Their sound is rooted in the fast-paced attack of hardcore punk, but with a more melodic sensibility in addition to the spastic moments. The vocals remained impassioned, going from soft mumbles to throat-wrenching screams in an instant, and lyrically divulged much more personal topics. It is also quite reminiscent of early Joy Division (while they were still under the moniker "Warsaw").

The band began exploring new ideas as they progressed. Their songs expanded into longer, drawn-out epics that utilised the soft-loud-soft dynamic, which would be used by countless bands that followed (remember, this is pre-Indian Summer). The bass and drums would create a dark and haunting atmosphere while the guitar would play gentle, droning arpeggios. On top if it all, vocalist Jonathan Vance would partake in spoken word ramblings, both personally and politically charged. Then the band would build up, and let everything out in a cathartic climax. Sound familiar? This is why they get lumped in as a "90's emo/post-hardcore band", or whatever you want to call it. A lot of this material wasn't released until the 90's They put out some stuff in 1991, while their full-length [both versions] and another retrospective-type release was put out later on in the decade. So I see why they end up with that title, though they did come before many of those bands.

Eventually, they disbanded permanently (they had many off periods in their short career).  Most members pursued things outside of music (school/work mostly. I believe Jon Vance wrote a book of some kind at some point as well. This is with the exception of guitarist Tonie Joy, who went on to play in Universal Order of Armageddon as well as a brief stint with Born Against). Moss Icon are, and continue to be, one of the most seminal groups ever. They were groundbreaking, influential, and above all, just a damn good band.

Below is everything I could track down from the band. I know for a fact that this is not all the band's material, but definitely the majority of it. I know there are a handful of tracks that do exist (since they surfaced on the Internet for a while, then disappeared again), but am unsure if there's anything else beyond that. (EDIT/UPDATE: A couple of these songs were found, they're near the bottom called The Life Demos). As you can see, some songs repeat. This is either due to re-recordings/alternate versions, or the same recording being put on two different releases. In some cases, entire releases (i.e. the Memorial 7") appear on another release. I included the repeat tracks in an attempt to be thorough with their discography.
1. Hate In Me
2. What They Lack
3. Never Turning
4. My Strength, My Weakness
5. Mirror
6. We Deny
7. Sorrow

This is Moss Icon's very first release, a demo tape put out in 1987. It features songs that would be re-recorded for their first official EP (Hate In Me, What They Lack), a song that would be re-recorded for their only LP (Mirror), and a handful of other songs that are exclusive to this tape. I haven't been able to track down any official artwork for this.

1. Hate In Me
2. What They Lack
3. I'm Back Sleeping or Fucking or Something
4. Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die

This is the first official release, a 7" with no real title. It is often referred to as either Hate In Me (after the first track), or Greta Garbo (the actress depicted on the cover). This and Lyburnum are essentials, in my opinion.

1. The Life or This Grape Juice's Drink
2. Kick The Can

Another 7". Both of these songs also appear on Lyburnum, but as shortened versions. This was a transitional record of sorts, since it contains elements of both their older and newer material.

2. All Over Heaven
3. Demon (Live)
4. Guatemala
5. Moth
6. Guatemala (Live)
7. Home

Breathing Walker was a side project active in 1990 which included all four members of Moss Icon. Their sound is semi-similar, especially since some of the songs on this tape are actually Moss Icon songs (depending on how you look at it, they could actually be Breathing Walker songs since they were recorded under that name first). The band only released one self-titled tape. Note: "Home" was not initially included. It's an outtake that I threw in.

1. Memorial
2. Moth

These exact recordings appear on the It Disappears LP as well as the re-issue of Lyburnum in 1997.

Moss Icon/Silver Bearing (1991)
1. Moss Icon - Guatemala
2. Moss Icon - Gravity
3. Moss Icon - Familiar Presides
4. Moss Icon - As Afterwards The Words Still Ring
5. Silver Bearing - Arizona
6. Silver Bearing - Weat(construct)her
7. Silver Bearing - Jazz One
8. Silver Bearing - Hollerin' Like A Metal God
9. Silver Bearing - Polka Of Lust
10.Silver Bearing - Audra: Country
11.Silver Bearing - Drop It (Weather)
12.Silver Bearing - Arabic Language

This is a split LP with San Francisco-based band Silver Bearing. MI's side is, as expected, absolutely incredible. I included Silver Bearing's side as well. Though not quite as good as Moss Icon's, it's still quite decent and tends to be forgotten in favour of its first side. A note on Moss Icon's side: "Guatemala" and "Gravity" also appear on It Disappears and the re-issue of Lyburnum. "As Afterwards The Words Still Ring" was re-recorded for Lyburnum.
2. I'm Back Sleeping or Fucking or Something
3. The Life
4. Divinity Cove
5. Locket
6. Kick The Can
7. Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly
8. Cricketty Rise
9. As Afterwards The Words Still Ring
10.Happy (Unbounded Glory)

This can be viewed as Moss Icon's magnum opus (if you don't count the re-issued version). Their sole LP. By this time they had become masters of their craft, being able to so seamlessly explore many ideas both musically and lyrically, and to blend relentless emotion with amazing musicianship. To keep things short, it's good. Really good. As is all their stuff. That's why their one of the best. This is their first release post-break up. It was recorded in 1988, but not formally released until 1994 when Vermiform put it out. Note: I'm Back Sleeping or Fucking or Something is the same version that appears on Hate In Me/Greta Garbo, just mastered differently.

1. Guatemala
2. Memorial
3. Moth
4. Gravity
5. I'm Back Sleeping or Fucking or Something (Live)
6. It Disappears

This is half-live half-studio. Tracks 1-4 were all previously released (on the Silver Bearing split and the Memorial), and the last two are live. The title track is introduced as "The Life", though it is a completely different song.

1. Mirror
2. I'm Back Sleeping or Fucking or Something
3. The Life
4. Divinity Cove
5. Locket
6. Kick The Can
7. Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly
8. Cricketty Rise
9. As Afterwards The Words Still Ring
10. Happy (Unbounded Glory)
11. Guatemala
12. Memorial
13. Moth
14. Gravity

Finally, the legendary Lyburnum. A CD reissue in 1997, this is their most popular piece of work. Essentially, it's Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly with four songs tacked on to the end. Those four being the first four songs on It Disappears (the studio ones). If you're going to grab anything here, make it this.

In 1989, Moss Icon recorded a couple songs that would become known as The Life Demos. Some of these songs being "Cape Of Holes (Cut Rope Sky Song)", "Reflections Of An Old Man", and "Nov. 10th (Autumn Whirlwind)". Whether these are the only songs recorded at this time or if there are more is unknown to me. These tracks did surface once before, but the link has been broken for a while now. If anybody has them, or knows anything about them, it's greatly appreciated. I finally found two of these songs on Youtube (thanks to sxd and joecaithness) and ripped them off of there myself in the best quality I could (but you know, good quality and Youtube audio is still an oxymoron). The songs in the download are "Cape Of Holes" (Cut Rope Sky Song)" and "Reflections Of An Old Man". Enjoy. Blogged And Quartered came back and uploaded all three songs from the demo, so they're all there now and in better quality. Major thanks to him for that and for most of the stuff on here from them.
Moss Icon appeared on a few compilations, but I only included the two that feature tracks exclusive to those compilations. Those being "Sioux Day", which was released on a Troubleman United cassette compilation titled Superpowers in 1992 (just after they broke up), and "Cornflower Blue". This song was put out on a comp called False Object Sensor by Vermiform in 2001. This track features members of The Hated as additional musicians. I don't know if this song was recorded in their initial tenure and it's purely coincidental that this was put out during the year of their first reunion, or if it was actually recorded and released during their that brief reunion. Any insight on this would be much appreciated.

Included here are two separate shows of which I have no information on. The first five tracks are from one show in Annapolis in March 1988, and the final five are from 1991, but don't know anything beyond that.

EDIT/UPDATE: I've been meaning to upload their recently released discography, put out by Temporary Residence, for a while so here it is. The first disc consists of songs solely from Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly, while the second disc consists of songs from Hate In Me, Mahpiua Luta, Memorial, the split with Silver Bearing, and all the recorded songs that appeared on It Disappears. All the songs have been remastered, so the quality is a bit better than the ones previously posted.

Disc 1
1. Mirror
2. I'm Back Sleeping or Fucking or Something
3. Divinity Cove
4. Locket
5. As Afterwards The Words Still Ring
6. Lyburnum - Wit's End (Liberation Fly)
7. Cricketty Rise (Haverton Roads - Browns And Greens)
8. Happy (Unbounded Glory)

Disc 2
1. The Life
2. Kick The Can
3. Memorial
4. Moth
5. Guatemala
6. Gravity
7. As Afterwards The Words Still Ring
8. Familiar Presides
9. Hate In Me
10. What They Lack
11. Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die


  1. hey, theres this, Jon Vance's book:

    and our reading in austin during chaos in tejas:

  2. Your efforts to compile and share this material are very much appreciated - thank you.

  3. Hey, I have a Moss Icon track called 'Our Hearts to Conquer' that doesn't seem to be in your post. I have no clue what release it's from but it's definitely MI. I can upload it for you and you can add it to this post if you'd like. Thanks for compiling all this stuff too!

  4. The life - live at crofton fire hall - On YouTube as "it disappears live" - is one of the most of the delicate and beautiful things I have ever heard.