For as long as I’ve been paying attention to music, I’ve always felt that, for the vast majority of bands, there are only a couple of possible career trajectories.
There’s the “bell curve” — where the band has a pretty similarly paced rise to and fall from popularity. Or there’s the “shooting star” path — where a band gets big after its first or second album and then basically falls off the grid.
Sure, some bands can string out their decline a lot longer — like Pearl Jam, U2 and R.E.M. — but the one constant that generally holds true is that the longer a band is active, the further it is from the peak of its greatness.
As far as I was concerned, that was just a fact of life. That is, until I discovered Rival Schools.
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During my recent trip to Indy, I made sure to hit up Luna Music on my way out of town. The first time I visited a year ago, I found out about Two Door Cinema Club. Needless to say, I was eager to see what new band I would discover on this trip.
Bouncing from one listening station to another, I heard some good music, but nothing really caught my ear until I put on a disc by Rival Schools called Pedals. I’d never heard of the band, but I liked the name and figured I’d give it a spin. I was immediately welcomed by catchy rock-pop that sounded both new and familiar at the same time.
Since purchasing it, I’d listened to Pedals about five or six times but still couldn’t put into words what I thought of it or why I liked it. So I headed over to Amazon to see what other fans were saying about the album.
And that’s when I found out about the band’s past.
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Apparently, Rival Schools was something of a hardcore supergroup when it formed in 1999. The band, based out of New York City, consisted of Walter Schreifels on vocals and guitar, Ian Love on guitar, Cache Tolman on bass and Sam Siegler on drums. According to Wikipedia, the various members had come from such ’80s and ’90s hardcore bands as Gorilla Biscuits (Schreifels), CIV (Siegler), Youth of Today (Schreifels and Siegler) and Iceburn (Tolman).
The band’s awesome name — as well as the title of its first album — came from a video game called Rival Schools: United By Fate. After releasing an EP, the group put out its debut, United By Fate, in 2001.
The band dissolved within a couple of years, but, despite only releasing the one album, Rival Schools eventually became regarded as an influential force in the post-hardcore scene.
The various members all went on to do their own thing for much of the Aughts before eventually coming together again in 2008. They performed at a handful of festivals overseas and in the States and eventually headed into the studio to work on a new album.
Finally, after nearly 10 years of waiting, fans were treated to new music when the band released the single “Shot After Shot” in November 2010. Then came Pedals in March of this year.
And this is where my previously held philosophy on career arcs is shattered. The album the band put out in 2011 is way better than what it released a decade earlier. In fact, it’s almost like listening to two different bands.
I suppose that’s to be somewhat expected. With most bands that stay together for the long haul, you’re able to hear the gradual progression of their evolving sound. Since Rival Schools don’t have anything to bridge the gap, their transition seems much more abrupt.
It’s a good thing I didn’t hear United By Fate when it originally came out, as the post-hardcore sound rubs me the wrong way and I probably would’ve written off the band and never cared about any subsequent releases.
But as it were, I’m definitely digging their current alt-rock sound that I’m going to dub “post-emo.”
The funny thing is that the music the band is making today reminds me a lot of the stuff I listened to around the turn of the century. The one group that seems most comparable is Jimmy Eat World. You can hear their sound on such tracks as “Racing To Red Lights”, “A Parts For B Actors”, “Big Waves” and “The Ghost Is Out There”.
Rivals Schools – A Parts For B Actors
Most, if not all, of the tracks here conjure up memories of the best parts of the early ’00s — those that never got old or dated. I can definitely imagine listening to “Wring It Out” or “69 Guns” or “Small Doses” while hanging out in my dorm room.
Rivals Schools – Small Doses
The group is doing some touring now and will even be at Lollapalooza this year.
And here’s to hoping that fans don’t have to wait another 10 years for the band to put out new music.