One Last Wish: Investigating the short-lived DC emotive hardcore act

One Last Wish: Investigating the short-lived DC emotive hardcore act

By Aaron Lohan

Aug 31, 2017 18:06

This is a spin off of our "Where to Start" series! In this feature we provide an overview on the obscure and relatively known acts with less than five albums. In other words, in this guide we go through a band's discography album by album, telling you our thoughts on each record as well as giving insight into the band themselves and why we recommend them for your listening pleasure. This month: One Last Wish.

Let’s start by saying that this is the shortest-lived band we’ve covered in this series so far. Indeed, compared to Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty’s more renowned careers in Rites of Spring and Fugazi, One Last Wish are quite often overlooked from this era of American punk and hardcore. So who were they? Well, following the disbandment of the aforementioned Rites of Spring, Canty and Picciotto, along with guitarist Edward Janney, went on to form this near forgotten post-hardcore act once they added former The Faith and Embrace guitarist Michael Hampton. Thus the line up was set in May 1986, with Picciotto on vocals/guitar, Janney on bass/vocals, Hampton on guitar and Canty on drums.

Stylistically, One Last Wish wove melody into the raw emotive post-hardcore that the members’ previous bands had delivered. We’ll look into how this brought a brighter feel to this early emo sound a lot more as we discuss the band’s sole record ‘1986’. Speaking of which, after recording the album in November 1986 and playing some local shows in the Washington, DC area, One Last Wish would call it quits in January 1987. The band’s members would go onto other projects including the also short-lived Happy Go Licky and the inspirational Fugazi. As for the album however, Dischord were hesitant to release it at the time as they didn’t want to be viewed as a label of defunct bands. Apart from the song ‘Burning in the Undertow’ appearing on a 1989 benefit compilation, ‘1986’ wouldn’t see the light of day until 1999. So without further a do, lets dive into this record.


As mentioned in the introduction, One Last Wish’s only album wasn’t released until 1999, thirteen years after the band’s demise. With that in mind, it provided insight into the ever expanding scope the band’s members took on as musicians. In contrast to their previous bands, especially Rites of Spring, One Last Wish injected melody and hopefulness into their rawly tinged punk. Such forays would provide foundational blueprints for Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty’s eventual career with Fugazi the year after.

Testifying to that brighter feel is ‘Burning in the Undertow’, which feels akin to where Hüsker Dü and The Replacements took hardcore punk, i.e. a grander ambitious scale. Yet there is that bittersweet darkness lingering underneath which is carried by Guy Picciotto’s trademark yearningly raw vocal style. Songs like the bass propelled ‘Break to Broken’ and the restlessly encouraging ‘My Better Half’ drive this energy ever so deeply into the psyche. Meanwhile a new dimension is welcomingly brought to the table by bassist Edward Janney’s self assured vocal tones. On ‘Sleep of the Stage’, his style, along with the music itself, creates a wonderful Sonic Youth inspired quality, whilst ‘Friendship Is Far’ is delivered as a divine easy going tune.

On the likes of ‘Three Unkind Silences’ and ‘Shadow’ both vocal styles collide in an uneasy co-operation that is both harmonious and conflictingly tense to the touch. It provides another intriguing layer to a genre that is traditionally rooted in grounded human emotions. It should be reiterated that this delivery is a constant element to ‘1986’s thematic and musical flow. Album closers ‘This Time’ and ‘Home Is the Place’ cement this idea through an emboldened use of graciously clean guitars and a stripped back looseness which grippingly contrast with the stirringly rough vocals. By the time it reaches its roughly twenty minute run time, you’ll concur that ‘1986’ is an unforgettable gem.

As we stated at the start of this article, One Last Wish were a very short-lived band, with one record to their name. Regardless, through ‘1986’, this near forgotten DC group expanded not only punk and hardcore, but the very early beginnings of the emo and post-hardcore sub genres too. An intriguingly welcomed knot amongst the finely wrought rope of alternative music history.