Review Summary: A strong and spirited collection of catchy folk-punk numbers with a heart, a conscience, and a passion for melody.
Seeing the band name and album title, and having looked at the photograph of a burning paper house on the cover of Fists Buried in Pockets
, The Riot Before's second full-length outing, you'd be forgiven for expecting an incendiary politico-hardcore outing. However, in judging this (liner note) book(let) by it's cover, you'd be depriving yourself of something of a pleasant surprise. The accompanying press release bills The Riot Before as "the bastard child of Against Me!
and The Gaslight Anthem
, with Mike Ness (of Social Distortion
) singing" and it's soon apparent the aforementioned fists are not clenched in anger, but in frustration.
Building on a solid base of sprightly stripped-down punk rock, the band reference the same touchstones of folk, soul and country for which Mssrs. Gabel, Fallon and Ness have a known affinity, resulting in an album which is simultaneously fresh and yet warmly familiar. Through it's eleven (mostly) short, sharp numbers, Fists Buried In Pockets
thoughtfully addresses the many problems and difficulties of day to day life, from the plight of a poor immigrant worker in "5 to 9," through the constant presence of war and politics in the media ("Numero Seven" and "Election Day" respectively), to "Words Written Over Coffee," where vocalist Brett Adams recounts the trepidation of choosing to drop everything and follow his dreams of living through music. Adams' lyrics are candid and he's surely wearing his heart on his sleeve here, but thankfully he doesn't descend to trite emotional outpourings, instead going for an intelligent and occasionally complex lyrical style, which is wordy without ever coming across at all pretentious. Take, for example, the chorus of "You Can't Sexy Dance to Punk Rock," one of the catchiest cuts to be found here - "So we fight for life with the limits out of our reach/We implore the sky to reveal past infinity/So dies safety..."
- a song which thoughtfully discusses the negative effects that might arise from knowing why and how we're here. Questioning the morality of science? Or making a strong case for having belief? The beauty here is that there are several ways to interpret the lyrics, meaning that there should be something here for everyone to appreciate - a credit to Adams' lyrical skill.
As is to be expected, such lyrical depth and emotion would be wasted if the songs weren't up to scratch, but thankfully this isn't the case. As I mentioned, TRB imbue their songs with varying influences, all to great effect. "Threat Level Midnight," with it's stomping folky influence, wouldn't be vastly out of place on Against Me!
's Reinventing Axl Rose
opus, although admittedly it's rather more accessible. "They Rode on in the Friscalating Dusklight" comes on like some kind of punk rock barndance/hoe-down, an effect bolstered by the "whoa-oh-oh" gang-vocals halfway through. Hell, "You Can't Dance..." even hints at something of a skate-punk influence! Freddy Clarke's drumming style is relatively simple, but he succeeds in picking the perfect beat every time, and is often the driving force behind the songs. Brett, along with second guitarist John Greeley provide the guitars, which alternate between bright chords, lead melodies, and the occasional moment of softer picking. Likewise, Cory Manning keeps his bass-playing fairly simple. It's apparent that simplicity, not technicality, is the band's strong point; it's the strong and consistent songwriting which makes Fists Buried In Pockets
such an enjoyable listen, although it doesn't hurt matters that the vocals (whether they're being sung by multiple band members, or just Adams himself) are passionate and strong, providing many a sing-along moment.
The only real misfire here is "I Have My Books," which strips things down maybe a little too much - a lone guitar strumming one chord and Adams' rather disjointed vocal phrasing making it more of an awkward emotional outpouring than an actual song. However, the overall strength of the rest of the album makes up for this one misstep and make no mistake, if you have even the slightest soft spot for passionate folk-influenced punk rock, those ten songs will have you coming back again and again. Fists Buried In Pockets
is a strong showing, especially from a band who've been around for a mere three years; if they continue making music of this quality, there's no reason why The Riot Before can't reach the same heights of success as their more famous peers.