The Riot Before - Rebellion
Release Date: April 27, 2010
Record Label: Paper+Plastick
For those of you too young to recall Avail, they were one of the hardest-working punk outfits to come out of Richmond, Virginia in the 1990's. Each album they recorded were tributes to their homeland, and the composites of what made it all so special to them. Keeping in the spirit of Avail's dedicated stream of working man's poems, the Riot Before are slowly climbing their way to the top of Richmond's elite. Their sophomore release, Rebellion, is a 35-minute salute to a band looking out over the world, taking sight of what's next in their (potentially) prosperous musical career. Fists Buried in Pockets, the band's debut, was well-received by many in the punk community, but merely recognized a band getting their feet wet before making a big splash. Rebellion is most definitely a jackknife/cannonball combo, and serves as the guide to "what's fresh" in 2010 punk rock.
Maintaining the gruff style of Hot Water Music and the hometown integrity of Avail, the Riot Before create ten tracks that really don't latch onto harmonies or gimmicks in order to fulfill a pop-punk quota. Heavy on melody, the band is also big on engaging listeners through elements of earnest folk songwriting over aggressive punk beats. Seriously, if "The Middle Distance" doesn't make you look twice to make sure you didn't accidentally come across Forever and Counting for a brief moment, you're crazy. The production purposely prides itself on remaining low-key and letting the band do the rest. Distorted, grungey, reckless -- it's all the beauty of what spearates the Riot Before from their contemporaries, and leaves Rebellion as a step above the rest.
Not to mention, Brett Adams might be the new curbside prophet of punk rock poetics. "Back Stage Room" takes the ordinary 'life is hard on the road' sentiment and wraps an entirely new bandage of perspective around the familiar wound. "Canít reconcile the life I knew / The forgotten basement ignored nights / Holding signs on the corners ďso hungry will workĒ / Watching eyes fast divert and then drive on by." Trust me, it gets better from there, and goes to show that not all songwriters in the punk community think entirely the same. "Uncharted Lands" details the inner-thought of what it's like to be an "outsider," not just for those in punk rock bands, but also those who represent the culture. That's what makes it all the more endearing: it's truth without metaphor or vague similes. Adams doesn't fuck around; he's an intelligent songwriter who refrains from grasping straws and relying on tongue-in-cheek wordplay. Hell, most of this stuff is close-to-home in terms of self-assessment (example: "Iíve always been good at finding the problems with everyone else / Thatís the main problem that I have with myself," he poignantly sings on aptly-titled "The Things I Hate"). "Answers in Change" is about as obvious as it gets without having to spell everything out either. It isn't merely about working your ass off for gas money, but more or less, about pure and utter acceptance, the desire to prove your worth on a very human scale ("Give me five minutes and I'll tear it down all the same").
In fact, Adams might just be a punk rock Kerouac, documenting his stories of the mental treachery of the road. It's truly refreshing not to see the lyrics as a stationary tale, bound to the confines of reiterating what sights are missed, times have been had, etc. Really, it's all a cornerstone in a punk rock diary of sorts, and while Richmond is certainly a centerpiece to the encasement around these internal struggles, Adams finds most of his influence from what isn't Virginia (which, ergo, makes it all that much better, see?!). Containing the passion of Chuck Ragan, the ethics of Tim Barry and the fervor of Blake Schwarzenbach (and a little bit of Tom Gabel on "A Good Sense of Style"), Adams rises above all expectations and ignites everything in his path. Let's not discredit the backing band, either -- nothing's entirely predictable here, which makes it all that more exciting. "The Oregon Trail" is literally the only "by-the-numbers" track here that sounds like a anthemic Dropkick Murphys-style romp; it just doesn't maintain the same bold flavor as the other nine tracks and comes off as too safe.
For those who crave the sincerity without much focus on classic structure (there really isn't much focus on verse-chorus-verse present here), and love the distorted aggression with a touch of melody, there really isn't any definitive reason as to why Rebellion shouldn't top your list as the clear frontrunner for best punk album of 2010. It's just that damn good. Reminding us of what got us into the sound initially, while bringing a well-rounded, entirely fresh-faced identity to it all. Each song compliments the next, and almost feels incomplete individually. Like an interstate highway that weaves its way through state after state, Rebellion is the internal spillover of what the road gives you and how you interpret the stops it has you make. There is no one sign that can spell it all out for you and give you the complete direction you need. Home is always there, and uncertainty lay all around it. Rebellion details that journey and the nostalgia of home, a familiar theme in punk rock, but one done better here than it has been in ages.