I accidentally stumbled across this article on AltPress.com yesterday, while looking for an image to use on the AM/FM post. This article was posted on August 28th, 2010 and frankly, it’s probably one of the nicest things ever written about Franklin. I’ve reprinted the article here, but you can check out the original at AltPress.com. Thanks Mr. Scott Heisel, whoever you are.
See, the problem with the ’90s is that bands named themselves not ever considering the implications of Google. For example, try locating any information on Franklin. They were a quartet founded in the Philadelphia suburb of Oreland, Pennsylvania, in 1992, playing an extremely unique brand of dub-infused post-hardcore/indie rock for most of the decade, but good luck unearthing even that via the search engine. Hell, their best record was self-titled and it was on a label called Tree. You ever try searching for “franklin tree” on Google? It’s not much help. Hell, they don’t even have a posthumous MySpace page–even the lowliest of Gravity Records screamo bands has earned one of those. These are the trials and tribulations of trying to unearth information on obscure mid-’90s emo bands. It’s a tough world out there.
But while you might have to resort to actually heading to a record store and digging through crates, I assure it’s highly worth it: Franklin–vocalist/guitarist Ralph Darden, guitarist Brian Sokel, bassist Roy Binnion (later replaced by Josh Mills) and drummer Greg Giuliano–released a slew of quality music from 1993 to 1999. The band’s sound started off more in the Fugazi-esque D.C. post-hardcore vein, which you can hear on 1996’s Go Kid Go, released on defunct Canadian label Workshop Records. The album featured nine new songs as well as all of the band’s early 7-inch and compilation appearances, making it a primer for any fans coming onboard in the mid-’90s. This song is one of the better ones on the CD:
But while the band were already showing promise, it was 1997’s Building In A And E where the band really developed their own sound. Released by Chicago’s File 13 Records (and still available digitally on iTunes and Amazon MP3), the seven-song EP (the first to feature Mills on bass) was produced by Hopeton “Scientist” Brown, the man who practically invented dub music. What the band came up with on that release was groundbreaking for the time, turning Franklin into sort of a post-hardcore version of Bad Brains–a band who could both be aggressive one minute and then lose themselves in the rhythm the next. You can still legally download the first track off that EP, “(#1),” here, although my personal favorite track is “Deejay Goes Dead.”
As the band’s buzz was building, they signed to Tree Records, then a white-hot Chicago label which had released early work from Pinback, Urban Legends (pre-the Thermals) and others, and was responsible for the absolutely genius Post Marked Stamps 7-inch series, which featured Braid, the Get Up Kids, Rainer Maria, Tim Kinsella and many more. Franklin’s first release on the label was the Major Taylor 7-inch, the A-side of which was the title track and also landed its way on a Tree/Southern/Polyvinyl Records sampler in early 1998–this was the first time I heard the band, and I was legitimately blown away by what I found in the track. Shouted vocals in a quick-paced cadence under which a rubber-band bassline and groove-laden guitar fought back and forth for the spotlight, “Major Taylor” was one of the first times I had ever said to myself, “Holy shit. What is this?” Check it out below, I urge you:
But all of that was a precursor to the group’s swan song, 1999’s self-titled effort:
Darden & Co. spent three months in early 1999 working on these 11 songs (re-recording “Major Taylor” and “DJ Goes Dead” in the process), and the attention to detail shows. The band had moved on from post-hardcore and fully embraced dub, but alternated between bass-heavy jams and energetic, lo-fi indie rock. The record opens with a wailing siren before “They Attack” slams itself into gear with thumping drums and oozing bass; a few minutes later, the band deliver “Inventor Of Loud,” a positively brilliant piece of brainy indie rock that still sounds better than virtually anyone slogging it up on Pitchfork Music Festival’s side stages. Legally download that track absolutely free right here, or if you want to try before you (don’t) buy, check it out below:
But just as the band had improved on their poppier side, their dub tracks were engaging and soulful, the best the band had ever written. Check out the truly gorgeous dub ballad “Blue All Over” and be amazed at the talent level this band had:
The album winds with a re-recorded version of “Major Taylor” (available for free download here) that sadly loses just a bit of of energy and spark the original had, but is still a great song nonetheless; Franklin then closes with the seven-minute “Death By Delay,” a droning dub track that will easily swallow you whole:
I could write endlessly about how mind-bending this record was for me the first time I heard it (and still is to this day, 11 years later), but really, it all boils down to the following three words: Find this record. It still appears to be in stock on vinyl via Insound along with a few of the band’s other releases, but I know the pressing was limited to under 2,000, and given that the band and label have been dormant for more than a decade, there aren’t a lot more copies floating around out there, so get yours now.
After the band broke up in the early 2000s, Darden went onto found the Franklin-esque Jai-Alai Savant, who released an EP and LP before slipping into hibernation (although their MySpace blog from 18 months ago insists they’re not broken up). He also DJs in Chicago frequently, going under the moniker Major Taylor. His other claim to fame? Atom And His Package wrote a song about him, called “Happy Birthday Ralph.” (Sample lyric: “Happy birthday, Ralph/I love you/Even though you are fucking disgusting.”) Sokel started up experimental indie-pop duo AM/FM in the wake of Franklin’s dissolution; they are now defunct, as well. I’ve been unable to find any details on Giuliano, Binnion or Mills’ post-Franklin projects, so if you know of any, please share them in the comments.
PS: I know this is a longshot, but maybe someone out there knows: I also have a two-song 7-inch by Franklin titled Roy Is Dead, released in 1996 on a label called The Great American Steak Religion, only neither side of the record is labeled so I have no idea what the songs are. Anyone know anything about this release?