We've heard a lot lately about the "return of rock 'n' roll." Whether it's on enjoyable records from the big names The Hives, The Strokes or the White Stripes or the lesser-knowns The (International) Noise Conspiracy, Tight Bros From Way Back When or Australia's Warped we are certainly in the midst of a back-to-basics rock movement that lapsed in the post-grunge era. Forget the guitar effects, they seem to be saying, and forget the slacker affectations. Just plug in the guitars, turn the volume to ear-bleeding levels and let the music do the rest.
And so it is with the Rye Coalition. The third record from this ultra-tight New York combo kicks out the jams harder than any of their new-rock cohorts. Bringing in the angry-men rhythms of Shellac, Fugazi's ear for interesting song directions and a small dose of hair-metal layered-guitar histrionics, Rye Coalition have forged a sound that, while informed by classic rock, R&B and blues, twists and turns genre conventions toward new areas. Importantly, though, the band is never so consumed by brainy showmanship that they forget to rock this album kicks harder in places than Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath ever did, or The Strokes ever will.
This brute force comes from the unrelenting production of the back-to-basics master, Steve Albini. His style is stamped all over this record. The mix of the potent, driving drum kit of Dave Leto a player reminiscent of math-rock powerhouses like Albini's own Shellac and Damon Che's amazing timing-gymnastics in Don Caballero ensures that this is not merely a guitar and vocals workout. The shifting rhythms and dynamics of this record are what set it apart from the emerging hordes of new garage-rock bands. Check the hooky-as-hell outro to "Switchblade Sister: One Tough Nun" for the best possible turnaround of blues-based riff-rock to a dance-hall kicker.
The yelping Ralph Cuseglio fashions himself into a love-child of Tom Waits, Guy Piccioto (of Fugazi) and Steve Albini, able to channel all at once or one in particular to such a degree that I had to check the liner notes of their last record, Lipstick Game, just to ensure that it really wasn't Guy Piccioto singing on the title track. His favored singing mode impassioned howl is powerful without being overwhelming, providing a human voice and touchpoint for the sonic commotion. His lyrics often take on Albini's acerbic wit and machismo, as in "Born a Monkey in the Year of the Snake," where he takes on a rock journalist (eep!) with the charge "Hey man you want some of this?/ Did we rub you the wrong way?"
No such problems here. I'm a sucker for a big guitar riff and Rye Coalition push their riffs to the very edge squealing, feeding-back and giving the tubes of their cranked amps the kind of treatment usually reserved for dissenters in dictatorships.
This is up-front rock and far from the latest trend-riding fad (they have two previous records to back them up on that fact). This is the Rye Coalition sound and, if the force of the music is any guide, you'd do best to avoid messing with this group of powerful men. Of all the rock gone hip the White Stripes as the epitome of the new minimalist lifestyle, The Hives and Kylie Minogue appearing together in a commercial, The Strokes evoking the relative simplicity of late '70s and early '80s, Ryan Adams as the well-dressed bratty country-rock hero Rye Coalition seem the least likely to be co-opted by Gucci- and Prada-wearing trendsetters.
And if you don't believe it, check the climax of the record, "Honky, Please!," a rocker with a simple, solid intro that builds to a hectic climax. The ending of this track is offensive in the way the best rock 'n' roll should be. The recording is distorted to hell, as if Albini left the mixing desk to dance around in celebration of the raucous energy. This certainly won't be the background music of your next genteel dinner party, but it is the sound of rock 'n' roll, the channel that has let out the frustration of young folk since it appeared almost 50 years ago: "She's breaking your heart/ You're smashing guitars."