Rival Schools - Pedals
Record Label: Photo Finish/Atlantic
Release Date: March 8, 2011
When an album presents such a perfect marriage of melody and force as Rival Schools' United by Fate, it's easy to eagerly anticipate the follow-up. The years since Fate’s 2001 release have whizzed by, and aside from some talk of reuniting a few years back, we’ve gotten nothing new from the band. Clichéd conventional wisdom dictates that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but Walter Schreifels and friends have surely overplayed their hand; a decade is a long time to keep people waiting. I’d imagine many kids weaned on late-‘90s and early-‘00s post-hardcore aren’t following the life-and-times of aging punk bands anymore-- though there are obviously a few of us nerds still out there-- and it’s a good bet that they’re largely unknown amongst the new batch of scene kids. So the circumstances surrounding the release of Rival Schools’ new disc Pedals don’t offer a whole lot of promise for it’s success. Which is kind of a shame, because it is undoubtedly a worthwhile effort that doesn’t deserve to be pushed aside dismissively.
Without question, one would expect some degree of softening to have occurred over the last ten years. After all, these guys weren’t kids in 2001, either; Schreifels played in Gorilla Biscuits in the ‘80s. To a degree, that’s exactly what happened, as Pedals doesn’t have any moments that quite equal United by Fate’s heaviest, though there’s some definite guitar crunch behind tracks like the opener “Wring It Out” and “Eyes Wide Open”. The slower fare is certainly more prominent, though, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Racing to Red Lights” is a gem that’s simultaneously jangly (the verses) and drop-D grungy (the choruses), the type of ballad that’s perfect mixtape fodder. Some purists might scoff and claim that it would fit right in with Dishwalla and Tonic on Buzz Ballads. They wouldn’t be far off, but it seems that whatever Schreifels-- whose voice hasn’t changed a bit during the time off-- is offering up can’t help but come off as genuine, even when it’s occasionally semi-cloying (“Love doesn’t know anything, only believes when it believes,” he sings on “Shot After Shot”). Regardless, we weren’t expecting Colin Meloy’s witty lyricism, but simply a musical and melodic tour de force-- and by and large, that’s exactly what we got.
“Most Anticipated”-type albums are a tricky business. I’ve come to be particularly leery of new releases by favorite artists; they never seem to live up to their predecessors, no matter how open-minded I try to approach them. Pedals, however, is overwhelmingly successful at toning down United by Fate’s aggression just a notch while still remaining unmistakably a Rival Schools album. It’s the type of comeback that won’t completely alienate longtime fans, while being easily accessible to new listeners. There will surely be those who really want to hate Pedals, and they won’t have any difficulty finding justification for their scorn within the album’s ten tracks. Nonetheless, it’s a winning return, though perhaps not entirely worth the wait.