Rival Schools : United By Fate

Brilliant punk rock from New York...

This is the secret rock record of the year. Secret because, by dint of its release date, Rival Schools’ terrific debut will be missed by end-of-year polls. Secret because, while Manhattan scenesters [a]Strokes[/a]

strut away with this year’s honours, this record comes from another New York – an angry, awkward place fashion can’t touch. A part of town whose punk underground is as important as Washington DC’s or Los Angeles’.

Rival Schools sound like [a]Nirvana[/a]

playing Fugazi through [a]Deftones[/a]

’ biggest amps. ‘United By Fate’ is a triumph of a record that takes soaring leftfield punk, maximises the riffs and pumps up the choruses. It’s an emo record with attitude, a big rock album with an aching heart. With a fair wind, it will take Rival Schools where [a]At The Drive-In[/a] failed to go: straight to the quick of the mainstream. Think punk means[a]Blink 182[/a]? You’re in for a surprise.

A record like this hasn’t come out of nowhere, and indeed, the Schools’ transcript is lengthy. Singer Walter Schreifels used to head post-hardcore heroes Quicksand. Before that, he was in original straight-edgers Youth Of Today and Gorilla Biscuits. After more than a decade of anger, though, he and his hardcore all-star School-mates have new feelings to vent. And so angular fury has given way to love, regret and accusation, and much, much bigger sounds.

There’s the magnificent ‘Used For Glue’, a forthcoming single, saturated with pile-driving guitars and blame. It’s not about using drugs, either. It’s about using people. Oblique and poetic, it stretches our debased expectations of what a rock anthem can be. ‘High Acetate’, too, isn’t the catchiest phrase, but in Schreifels’ gravelly howl, it becomes a nagging slogan of hope.

Emo-pop’s recent influence is a factor here and in the upbeat thrust of tunes like ‘Good Things’ sometimes Rival Schools sound like [a]Jimmy Eat World[/a]’s older brothers – but worldlier, scruffier, more ambitious. It’s where Rival Schools leave their sources behind, though, that they are freshest. Shrugging off hardcore’s strict blueprint, Schreifels can sample the rattly beat from ‘Soon’ by [a]My Bloody Valentine[/a]

on ‘Holding Sand’, and strafe it with sour guitar squeals.

For all the thrills in its details, though, ‘United…’ amazes most in its entirety, its fat payload of great songs. Bad timing should not be allowed to make a lost classic. So here’s to the first landmark record of 2002.

Kitty Empire