Day at the Fair - The Rocking Chair Years [Vinyl]
Record Label: Broken Heart Records
Release Date: September 2013
Looking back, Drive-Thru Records roster reads like a who's who of the early-2000s pop punk scene, boasting the likes of New Found Glory, Dashboard Confessional, Something Corporate, The Starting Line, The Early November, Hellogoodbye, Finch and Midtown, among others. These groups are often brought up in nostalgia-fueled discussions about the glory days, but if there's one criminally overlooked release in the label's storied catalogue, it's Day at the Fair's The Rocking Chair Years.
Following the mainstream success of many of their alumni, Drive-Thru formed an imprint called Rushmore Records in 2004. Day at the Fair were among the first acts signed. Formed from the ashes of two other New Jersey pop punk groups, Lanemeyer and Humble Beginnings, Day at the Fair released their Rushmore debut, The Rocking Chair Years, on May 5, 2005. Eight years later, the effort is making its vinyl debut courtesy of Broken Heart Records.
Day at the Fair typify the classic Drive-Thru sound: soaring choruses, emotional lyrics, punchy power chords and polished production. However, The Rocking Chair Years failed to garner much of the fanfare of their labelmates. That is not a reflection on the quality of music; I believe listeners were simply getting tired of the genre in general. Although generic at first glance, the album actually offers more diversity than your average pop punk act.
The Rocking Chair Years begins with its title track, an introductory ditty composed of vocals, piano and violin. Its lyrics lay out the mission statement of the album: "This is taking on the world / This is letting out the ghosts." From there, the band delivers a number of pop punk gems, with the infectious hooks of "Coda," "Eastern Homes and Western Hearts" and "Erasing Wilkes" particularly standing out.
At 51 minutes, The Rocking Chair Years is fairly long for an album of this nature. There is some filler - the midsection drags a bit - but it quickly recovers. The length allows Day at the Fair to explore their punk rock roots ("Remember Britt") as well as their softer side ("This Is Why We Don't Have Nice Things," "The Lost, The Lucky"). While nearly every pop punk album of the time offered a quintessential ballad, the album's softer offerings sound more like slow tempo alt-rock songs than stereotypical acoustic numbers.
Frontman Chris Barker's nasally voice is not unlike that of The Starting Line's Kenny Vasoli. While he doesn't have a particularly noteworthy range, Barker's passion is palpable. Back when pop punk songs were still dominated by heartbreak, Barker's lyrics were a highlight for lovelorn listeners seeking a glimmer of hope. "I'm in the good life now / I see myself / Smiling bigger and wider than you ever knew how" (from "And My Name's Dignan, So What?"), for example, is the stuff AIM away messages were made of.
Following the 14 album tracks, the two-LP vinyl pressing features the three tracks from the band's 2004 EP, The Prelude - "Priscilla the Traveling Proton" " Kira Doesn't Care About Anything, She's a Nihilist" and "Homesick Angels" - that were not re-recorded for The Rocking Chair Years. Then there are four surprise B-sides: "Here Lies Our Holiday," "First Two Moons" and alternative versions of "Kira" and "The Rocking Chair Years." The record also includes a digital download of two additional tracks: "Broken," the first song Barker wrote for the band, and "Ghost Stories," which he recorded with Tom Keiger and Josh Grigsby of Houston Calls.
Day at the Fair broke up only a year after the release of The Rocking Chair Years, unfortunately, but they recently regrouped and began working on new material. Although the music landscape has changed quite a bit since 2005, it will be interesting to hear the band's follow-up, The Epilogue, which is due out next year. Until then, I strongly recommend picking up The Rocking Chair Years. Whether you look back at the album fondly or if you're just learning of Day at the Fair, the record will bring you back to pop punk's golden age.