The New Amsterdams - At the Foot of My Rival
Record Label: Elmar / Curb Appeal
Release Date: September 25, 2007
Matthew Pryor is nothing short of a musical hero to me. He was essential in expanding my maturing tastes, which is something I’m grateful for. Thus it’s no surprise that when I had the opportunity to delve into At the Foot of My Rival, the latest album by Pryor’s Lawrence, Kansas based band The New Amsterdams, excitement ran high. Due to my personal history, forming an opinion on these fourteen tracks has been a task of great difficulty. The initial excitement has faded, and though it’s disheartening to admit this isn’t an album I see myself coming back to often, it would be a mistake to imply there aren’t any good songs on the album.
Once the drowned out introduction of “Revenge” is completed, “Wait” provides a wonderful reminder of just why Pryor’s voice is revered by his fans. He doesn’t carry as much of the gruff texture he kept close as a youth but maintains the smooth style he’s become accustomed to in recent years. A few tracks later is a standout titled “Long Lost Shot.” Besides having a slick title, it also features some nice use of the harmonica and the best lyrics of the album: “Only the fools rush in / But only the frightened wait / I’d rather be foolish than / Scared of my own mistakes.” It’s a message to live by and something to be taken to heart by the more timid. “Story like a Scar” is also a keeper and a nice piece of nostalgia. Poppy choruses filled with quick fingered keyboard tapping bring forth images of the undeniably agreeable James Dewees, former bandmate of Pryor. There’s also a stripped down side to At the Foot of My Rival. Even on songs like “Fortunate Fool,” where multiple instruments are used, there’s an intimacy involved due to the slow movement of the instruments and Pryor’s overlapped vocals. Closing the album is “The Blood on the Floor,” and as its title suggest, it’s a dark song. The instrumentation sets an almost spooky atmosphere, and the distorted, strained background vocals (listen closely as “How can I trust whatever you say / It isn’t helping us” is belted out) add another layer to Pryor’s prominent voice. Though it may not fit with the rest of the songs (it would fit nicely with The Get Up Kids’ “Is There a Way Out” in terms of mood), this is the kind of sound to be explored further.
While there are no inherently bad songs on the album, a few simply don’t feel necessary. “Fountain of Youth” falters both lyrically and vocally. There are few words used in the song, and what’s present isn’t overall impressive: “Come if you can, call if you must / Drink what you bring and share it with us.” On that note, Pryor’s high pitched “ooh’s” sound more like filler than a necessary addition to the music. Funny how the lesser facets of the album are related to alcohol – “Drink or Dead” is another weak point. “Lay on the Rails,” the song preceding “Drink of Dead,” would have been a great lead in to the final track on the record because of the tension built. Instead, “Drink or Dead” slows things down with an acoustic guitar and horns that feel somewhat out of place. The real problem with these songs is they draw attention away from the best the album has to offer; regulating the lesser songs to b-side territory would have worked given the considerable fourteen track total. On the subject of length, it would've helped if standout songs were elongated. “Long Lost Shot,” one of the best available, doesn’t even break the three minute mark. During what sounds like a harmonica interlude, the music cuts off and the sound of a creaking door opening and closing can be heard - the sound of The New Amsterdams rushing onto the next song. The lack of a satisfactory length is a detriment to forming a greater attachment to what could become a favorite song.
No matter how much praise is thrown toward an album, the true test of its worth is how often it’s replayed. Some albums become as close as old friends while others are scattered and lost throughout the years, forgotten. It’s a shame At the Foot of My Rival seems destined to fall into the latter category of my album collection.