Welcome Fuss and Frustration
Comically listing Al Stewart as the band’s one and only influence on their Facebook page—and if you don’t know soft-rock legend Al “Time Passages” Stewart, the greatest of all shames on you—Rival Schools’ brand of post-hardcore is something of a “for richer or poorer,” 50–50 split ’tween the taught, steely rhythms of a Gang of Four or Mission to Burma and the distressed, gale-wind force of ’90s grunge. It’s a bit medical to dissect their sound as such, and, thankfully, to the group’s credit there’s a good deal more nuance to it than that. But still, the thrust and parry from these two poles is quite tangible. Now on their third studio release following the 2011 LP, Pedals, Rival Schools has capably re-upped their edgy, disquieted formula in Found.
“Reaching Out” proves a quality case study for the foursome’s witty marriage of sounds. The verse’s drums knock with a lean tidiness as contrapuntal guitars seem to steam like factory hardware. The old industry warning bears out: “Contents under pressure.” Singer Walter Schreifels effuses with a reedy–smoky tone, coming off like Perry Farrell’s tense, world-weary cousin. Finally, all the punkish, angular tension is released in a mid-tempo whopper of a chorus. “My mind’s been open way too long / Who knows what may slip inside?” grins Schreifels, the riff swaying like a tree-flattening grunge gorilla. For similar tracks, like the wildly satisfying “Big Waves” and “Thinnest Skin,” wash, rinse and repeat. And my, the shine!
“Paranoid Detectives” makes a turn for the elegiac, it’s bittersweet pulse thrumming with interwoven guitars, while “Indisposable Heroes” plays like a sizzling crab pot of Rage Against the Machine motifs and ’80s straight-edge dispirit. Opener “Dreamlife Avenger” does something similar, marrying a skittish, Suicidal Tendencies verse with a dive-bombing, warfare-ready chorus—again, Tom Morello approved. Most of Found’s probing, restless tracks hit above average, though “Tell It on the Streets” fairs a bit weaker. Despite its exciting Rorshach guitar solos, Schreifels’ sustained cries end up a tad on the cloying side. Nevertheless, Rival Schools’ latest is nothing to sneeze at, and its excellent closing cover of the Buzzcocks classic, “Why Can’t I Touch It?” puts a big exclamation point on the band’s seamless blend of nervy punk and arena-quaking heft. Al Stewart has indeed taught them well.