Rival Schools’ new album – was it worth the wait?

I think it’s fair to say that Rival Schools took their time over their sophomore album. The best part of ten years to be precise. Which is somewhat understandable, after their 2001 debut United By Fate was lauded by many as an alt-rock triumph and a sign of big things to come.

Walter Schreifels, Rival Schools
Walter S - one of the nicest men in rock and part-time exorcist

Not that they arrived out of the blue – front man Walter Schreifels had been the brains behind 90s hardcore groups Guerilla Biscuits and Quicksand. So it was a disappointment to many when Rival Schools broke up in 2003, but jump five years later and they returned with the original line-up.

I’m happy to report that their new album Pedals, which was released last week, retains a lot of the New York band’s original appeal, whilst giving several nods to how the scene has evolved in their absence.

Opening track, Wring It Out is as anthemic as anything they’ve ever written, while Eyes Wide Open boasts a beefy riff to keep hardcore fans happy. Meanwhile, Choose Your Adventure shows how the band’s sound has evolved, with a swaggering bassline driving a much funkier tune, although lead guitarist Ian Love’s trademark solos remain as exciting and esoteric as ever.

In much the same way as on United By Fate, the album starts with five tracks that all boast immediate appeal, while the latter half of the album has more of slow-burning effect.

Rival SchoolsWhere Pedals deviates from the first album’s template, however, is at the very end. One of the most impressive feats of the debut album was how it finished on two finely-crafted instrumental tracks, with Hooligans For Life in particular remaining a stunning musical achievement and the band’s most compelling live track to this day.

Instead of trying to repeat this trick, Pedals ends on a more modest and abrupt note, as The Ghost Is Out There sounds more like latter-day Weezer than anything else, suggesting unfinished business and certainly leaving us clamouring for more.

It’s good to have Rival Schools back, but even if they don’t stick around for long, it’s enough to just sit back and enjoy a record that was more than worth the ten-year wait.

5 bands to watch in 2011

The way the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph have been carrying on this week, anyone would think that British rock music is about ready to pack up and go home.
While the lack of any serious Brit award nominations does reflect a shortage of successful mainstream guitar-based music in 2010, the fact that only three so-called rock songs made the top 10 of the singles chart last year is hardly a major cause for concern. If you’re looking for emerging talent in 2011, it doesn’t take long to scratch below the surface and find some hidden gems.

1.) This Town Needs Guns

This Oxford-based quartet made waves on the alt-rock scene with their 2008 debut Animals, and are set to follow that up with another, as yet untitled, record in late summer. TTNG mix mesmeric rhythms with mind-bending guitar licks to create a sound that no-one can rival.

2.) Sonic Boom Six

If you’re looking for proof that ska’s not dead, Laila Khan and co made be just the answer. This irrepressible group have been honing their sound since 2002, and with a support slot on King Blues‘ nationwide tour coming up, they could be about to take off.

3.) Jil Is Lucky

Bit of a cheat here, since Jil Bensénior is a French artist, but his Mid-Atlantic style folk tunes are definitly worth a mention. Signed to EMI, his self-titled debut album is due to reach these shores in February, after a highly successful French release. Think Conor Oberst meets Sam Duckworth and you’re not far off.

4.) Skeletons and the Empty Pockets

The effervescent new incarnation of ThisGIRL are due to finally release their debut ep this year, following up from their hugely promising first single Oh Brother! Oh Sister! Lead singer Liam Creamer’s acrobatic vocals and Mick Jagger swagger make for an unmissable live show as well.

5.) Dive Dive

Better known to many as Frank Turner‘s backing band, the Oxford quartet started life while the folk-rock troubadour was still in his previous band Million Dead. Their third album, Potential, is out tomorrow, and it has already garnered much praise from Kerrang (4Ks) and Rock Sound (9/10). Jamie Stuart’s vocals sound as sharp as ever on lead single Liar, see below for a whole host of alt-rock cameos:

Kick Up The Fire / Scholars / Lonely The Brave live review

Live at The Bowery, New Oxford Street, London (18/11/2010)

It’s not often that you go to a gig and come out raving about all three bands on the bill. But it seems like many people will have come away from the Bowery on Thursday night with a sense that they had discovered at least one excellent new band.

Lonely The Brave began the night in epic sweeping fashion, with reverb vocals and resounding riffs aplenty. Their Pearl Jam-meets-30 Seconds to Mars stylings definitely deserve a bigger venue.

Sam Nicholls: Scholar

Scholars were a different proposition altogether, with front man Sam Nicholls launching himself into a frankly petrified crowd and screaming every word as if his life depended on it. Once the audience had got over the initial shock, the charm of Scholars’ energetic pop-punk took hold, with a fair share of heads bobbing and toes tapping by the end of the half hour set.

Heading the bill were Kick Up The Fire, who were celebrating the launch of their self-titled mini-album. Lead singer Kenny Wastell cut an apologetic figure, and made it clear that the audience shouldn’t expect similar levels of lunacy to their predecessors.

Kick Up The Fire are one of those bands that worm their way into your head, they may not sound jaw-dropping at first, but after a couple of listens their alt-rock tunes really sink their teeth in and refuse to let go. It’s easy to see why Rock Sound said that their mini-album is “a record for which the repeat button seems custom-designed”.

Kick Up The Fire: Springsteen Fans

Covering every contemporary hot potato from lecherous politicians (No Hotel Room) to hypocritical religions (The Never-Ever Ending Story) in half an hour left the audience baying for more and KUTF duly obliged. The decision to repeat the two-minute anti-corporate sing-along No Fun In London instead of trying something more risky was ill-judged, however, and took some of the gloss off an otherwise flawless performance. There’s nothing wrong with leaving an audience wanting more, especially if you’ve yet to write a mediocre song.

Wastell confessed that he is currently a “fresher granddad” at age 29, but this can clearly be used to their advantage, as the fresh-faced girls in the front-row (presumably actual freshers) seemed like a pre-made street team. If they can fulfil their potential on a full-length album, there seems no reason why Kick Up The Fire can’t take 2011 by storm.