The allure of emo can often be an evasive topic with an evasive answer, depending on who you ask. The answer most will give, whether it be derisive or reverent, is that it taps in to one’s innermost feelings, the ones you might be a little ashamed of. Most of the time, emo will serve as a sort of exorcism for these things, like hearing something you believe to be true repeated back to you will alleviate the burden of invalidation or loneliness. Usually this is related to the lyrics or the vocal delivery, but some of these songs pack the catharsis of good therapy into just a few notes. “Parking Lot” by Austin emo legends Mineral is one of those songs.
“Parking Lot” is the final song on the band’s debut album The Power of Failing, released in 1997 by Crank! Records. Like most bands from this genre and era, they would experience middling success from a passionate but meager fanbase, put out one more album, then break up. Mineral actually jumped the gun on this cycle a bit by breaking up before the second record even released. Also similar to their peers of the late 90s emo wave, they would be heralded as torch-bearers long after their lifetime, one of those “your favorite band’s favorite band” deals. Mineral does stand exceptionally tall over a lot of their counterparts in terms of influence and acclaim, and although their second album EndSerenading has proved to be just as influential, The Power of Failing stands as one of the true lasting documents of the era.
You could truly pick any song from this album and be able to to write 500 words about it while reverse tracing its genealogy to the bands that carry the torch today, especially with a classic like “Gloria” being only the second track on the album. However, for my money and the money of others I’m sure, “Parking Lot” is the track on The Power of Failing.
The track begins with the tried and true emo method of the “build up but not a build up”. Basically, the band plays coy with the atom bomb behind their back by leading with some pretty, non distorted guitars, and front-man Chris Simpson’s signature tenor lulling you into security. “I wouldn’t care if you took me in my sleep tonight/I wouldn’t even put up a fight,” he sings, invoking the Christianity-tinged melancholy that would become one of Mineral’s many idiosyncrasies. Appropriately, Simpson ends the verse on the word “pain” and the guitar falls away. The crackle of distortion comes into focus, and the gates open up. When I mentioned how a few notes can represent emotional release perfectly, this is what I meant.
Scott McCarver’s lead guitar cries in a tone that I don’t think I’ve heard before in a song, then or since. It brings a melody so sad and anguished, but with such vigor and intensity that you could swear it was coming from the heart itself. As everything erupts around it, this riff cuts through like a beam of sunlight in torrential downpour, so lonely but so dazzling that you can’t revert your eyes. Of course, after a release like this, the song must take a brief breather.
Simpson returns for the second verse to muse about his place in the world and how insignificant it is: “And realize along the way that I’m nothing more than/A grain of salt in the earth, and everything is grace.” Somewhat uncharacteristically, our emo front man has found peace in his place in life. Sure, the realization that you’re but a speck of dust in the cosmic eye can be unsettling, but Simpson believes that the grace of God is enough to make this existential burden worth bearing. This makes the return of the chorus instrumental a little different the second time around. The aching can still be heard, but perhaps it’s more jubilation this time around as the band finds happiness in this pain rather than agony.
As the chorus brings us back around to the verse again, Simpson even begins to find himself ready to meet the challenge of existence, goating the world to “Come on with the darkness/And come on with the fear/’Cause I’ve got to start somewhere/And it might as well be here.” The instrumental adapts to this pep talk and ups the tempo, quickly meeting Simpson’s pace before exploding after his last syllable. No riff this time, just pure fury as the band runs ahead into an uncertain future. Simpson comforts himself with visions of his spoils, imagining a time when “I’m finally naked and standing in the sunlight/I’ll look back at this foolish pride/And laugh at myself.” He repeats this last line several times in a manic discharge, finally pushing the vocals to the limits to suit the situation. We conclude at Simpson’s last held note, and the curtain comes down on the song and the album as well.
Like I mentioned before, a song like this resonates because it is so synced up to the hearts of its listeners. If you converted the thoughts and feelings of a person into sound waves, it would probably sound a lot like this song, with its moments of quiet contemplation and moments of hair-raising emotion rolled into one experience. Emo as a genre in general does a better job than most at depicting what it’s like to be a living and breathing ball of frenzied emotions on this planet, and “Parking Lot” is simply one of the genre’s most shining and victorious pieces.