A worth-the-wait second LP a decade after the New Yorkers’ celebrated debut.
Chris Beanland 2011-02-25
They were dubbed the "next Nirvana" by one over-enthusiastic American rock scribe in 2001. But despite the gushing "We love you man!"s from some quarters, it's taken Rival Schools 10 years to dish up a sequel to their great debut. In the modern era, whole empires can rise and fall in that amount of time.
So the question inevitably is: "Was it worth the wait?" For the most part: "Yes it was." Times have changed, though. When Walter Schreifels' New York crew emerged at the turn of the millennium, emo and post-hardcore were only starting to nudge at the mainstream music consciousness. A decade on, many fans have had more than enough of the twin genres which became dragged down and sullied by their more gratingly commercial proponents. (Fightstar anyone?)
In some ways Rival Schools were part of the start of that commodified, radio-friendly sound that was closer to stadium rock than to the sweaty basement bashing of Fugazi et al that began the scene with such a flourish. Rival Schools' biggest hit from their first record, Used for Glue, was a pop-rock hit that saw them awarded exposure on the likes of MTV. It was catchy; fame was on the cards.
But while time passes, some things remain the same. Schreifels – who also founded New York hardcore band Quicksand in the 1990s – still has that customary growl. On Racing to Red Lights it still sounds like he's swallowed a cheese grater.
The band broke up for five years between 2003 and 2008, but this doesn't sound like a reunion based on the need to pay the mortgage. Comeback single Shot After Shot is a tightly produced, appealing slice of discordant guitar-shredding. Liberal use is made of pedals to summon up wizardly distortion and effects – a Rival Schools trademark which gives an almost prog feel on the likes of Big Waves.
The best song on Pedals is Eyes Wide Open. It combines potent riffs, anthemic choruses, the aforementioned effects pedals gone crazy – and leaps into a different league because the normal chugging rhythm section is prised apart with some natty changes of time signature. It's like the soundtrack to a wall of cardboard boxes being knocked over and kicked around a warehouse.