Walter Schreifels knows a thing or two about post-hardcore music. With time spent in Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits, Schreifels went on to found Quicksand. But one of his more recent, and by extension interesting, side projects is the supergroup known as Rival Schools. Founded in 2001, not to mention comprised of members of the aforementioned bands along with Iceburn, CIV, and Glassjaw, the group dropped an album and more or less parted ways from 2003 to 2008. After reforming for a collection of gigs, they now unveil album No. 2, Pedals. With a review of 2001’s United By Fate calling the band “the Foo Fighters minus the glossy production (but with the tunes intact), and an apocalyptic pop sensibility,” the band continues, for better or for slightly worse, to be more mainstream than basement-ready.
The effort’s more pleasing tracks offer a larger, more anthemic sound, one crafted especially well on “69 Guns”. Lines like “Kingdoms will rise and fall, but we’ll be the same as before” clearly demonstrate the band’s punk roots but in a poetic, more fulfilling manner. From the intro guitar line that builds so softly, and yet with enough intensity to sustain excitement, to the minor use of synth, it’s perhaps unbecoming of some of Schreifels’ older bands but definitely shows a fusion of the Metallica/Helmet giant-sized noise of Quicksand and the “playfulness” and tenacity of Gorilla Biscuits. And speaking of playfulness, “Choose Your Adventure” offers the audience another path in a funk-ified shot of rock. Don’t expect horns and booty shaking, but there is a danceable energy and vibe thanks to an arena rock-level guitar, a dash more of synth, a tinge of electro, and some of the more refined vocals (read, less gravelly) by Schreifels. Throughout these tracks, and even on a few others, the group is skilled at keeping intact a core hardcore sound while dressing it up and lumping on various influences to make it shine and pop and exist not as a hybrid but almost as something completely new.
While it’s clear the outfit is adept at that big noise, there are moments on this album too big to truly enjoy. “Racing to Red Lights” stands out as the elephant in the room representing the pitfalls of a larger, more grand sound. With a derivative theme and wimpy, almost non-existent instrumentation in some parts, the song is overwrought and suffers from overly sentimental sensibilities. Slower instrumentation doesn’t have to be a negative, even for hardcore giants like these fellas, but in this instance, and once again in a few others throughout the album, coupling all of these romantic junk parts together doesn’t make a song worthy of admiration and adulation as artistic growth; rather, it makes a hunker made with little feeling and more force. “A Parts By B Actors” exhibits the same sort of symptoms. However, it also illustrates the record’s overall lack of staying power.
The tracks on the rest of the LP aren’t bad. All in all, it’s a technically solid effort that culls together a boatload of influences and always aims at delivering an earnest personal statement from its creators. However, even moments after listening to many of the tracks, it’s hard to remember moments that stick out either due to an inherent value or because of how miserable they make the listener. Take, for instance, “The Ghost Is Out There”. It’s more of that sound found on “69 Guns”, but its reserved nature adds another layer of emotion to it that’s not as prevalent on other cuts. However, for whatever reason, it lacks long-term resonance. I’m not sure how some artists make their songs stay with you, but Schreifels and company don’t have that extra panache to maintain space in your noggin for more than a few hours before you need to go back and pick through most of the songs for the rest of a harmony or the whole of a meaningful lyric.
Even with some of the more outstanding flaws, the album is worthy of a listen by both post-hardcore aficionados and fans of the group members’ other bands. However, save for a few songs and fleeting moments from other tracks, the album feels comparatively unaccomplished despite the pedigree of its players.