Originally Published In The Daily Free Press on 3/3/2011
Rival Schools has been around in some form since 1999. Billed as a hardcore ‘supergroup,’ the New York-based band is comprised of members of late 1980s/early 1990s hardcore groups. Pedals is the band’s first release since 2001’s United By Fateand while hardcore may be in the band members’ roots, they turn down their amps and tap the skins lighter for this go ‘round. The result of this sonic experiment is all too unoriginal hard rock that comes off as flat and overly anthemic.
While Rival Schools is certainly comprised of experienced and talented musicians, they often come off as a new band awkwardly fiddling around, inserting mediocre hooks and sing-song choruses in an attempt to emulate more successful artists. “Eyes Wide Open” has an interesting hazy guitar sound, but is marred by shout-along vocals and a pretty cheesy bridge that you’d expect from those pop-punk bands that rocked suburban adolescents in the mid 90s. “Choose Your Own Adventure” has an awkward, contrived, off-time chorus and a tacky bridge that might be a residual effect of the band attempting to create a tight sing-along alt-rock anthem. “Big Waves” decomposes around mid-way through the song and the experienced musicians come across as a band trying too hard to find their sound. On practically all of the remaining tracks from “A Parts by B Actors” to “Racing To Red Lights,” the band sounds uninspired. Some variety would certainly break the monotony of the album.
On “Shot After Shot” and “The Ghost Is Out There,” two stronger tracks, Rival Schools certainly seems to take aim at a Queens of the Stone Age sound. While in fleeting moments they get close, they don’t quite reach that level – if listeners want to hear that sound then they should go straight to the source.
The band shows some promise on the album’s strongest track, “Small Doses.” There is a neat underdeveloped guitar solo that’s almost characteristic of those found on Wilco’s A Ghost Is Born. While the song does contain some tacky and straining dual vocals, this track exhibits that Rival Schools might be able to churn out some quality moments.
Overall, it is startling how flat this album is. The mixing might be the problem, but it’s almost as if the songs never reach a certain depth, constantly attempting to, yet failing to push both audio and quality levels. For a recently formed band, one could attribute inexperience as the cause of such a lackluster album, however, as the members of Rival Schools have been professional musicians for over a decade, one would expect more. It is up to the band to find their sound and further develop it before their next release, because if they stay on the same musical plane, their next album will be plagued by familiar problems.
Rival Schools will be developing their sound at Brighton Music Hall Saturday night.