Moss Icon was an emo/ post-hardcore band from Maryland that existed from 1986 to 1991. Though they are often credited with being one of the forerunners to the ‘emo’ genre, they were more involved with the hardcore punk scene, playing shows with Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, etc.
What sets Moss Icon apart from their contemporaries is their spectacular ability to transition seamlessly from loud, fast-paced, spastic moments to quieter, wispier bits. The build and intensity created by these alternations in pace, intertwined with lead singer Jonathan Vance’s alternations between full-throated screaming and sleeptalk-like, politically-charged rambling makes for a unique listening experience. Another notable characteristic of Moss Icon are the strong, deep bass riffs that provide backbone to the songs. In the midst of the chaotic drumming and unhinged shouting, the melodic bass riffs serve as a beautiful counter and balance.
In 2012, Moss Icon released a formal, nineteen-song ‘complete discography’ though it is missing a lot of songs. In this post I will be focusing on a four of my favorites from these 19 songs.
- I’m Back Sleeping, or *******, or Something
This might be my favorite Moss Icon song. The intermittent feedback and trilling percussion almost sound like strange frogs and birds deep in an eerie jungle. This song is a perfect example of the band’s soft-loud-soft dynamic, which many following bands would come to use in the future. The song builds up to a booming, cathartic climax and then cools back down again at least 4 times in the course of the 3 minute song.
- Divinity Cove
This song might fool you in the beginning because it opens with a cute, beachy little guitar line, but right as you’re caught off guard, that heavy, powerful bass kicks in to knock you off your feet. This song showcases the true limits of Vance’s voice, as he screams “I thought it meant divided, I know it does” into the mic. What does this line mean? Don’t ask me.
The grooviness of the 80s really shines through in this song’s guitar. Locket is a real foot-tapper. But the lyrics send a chill down my spine, with talk of burning houses, ghosts, and feet creeping up creaking stairs.
When this song opens with a twangy guitar, you might brace yourself for the bass to kick in, thinking that you won’t be fooled again like Divinity Cove. When the twangy guitar doesn’t stop, you might relax thinking that this song will be a beachy tune after all. But you would be wrong! Moss Icon isn’t all screaming and fuzzy bass; they can wind it down too, but towards the middle, the song starts building up again into the noisy, intense Moss Icon we’ve always known. I guess they just couldn’t resist.