Sunday, April 07, 2013
Doing better: RVIVR's The Beauty Between
This coming week brings two NYC visits from Olympia's RVIVR, resulting in three shows: a free NYU gig on Tuesday, 4/9 and a pair on Saturday, 4/13—daytime at Saint Vitus and nighttime at Union Pool. Here, via TONY, is my preview of the shows.
Every year, there are a few records that attain a certain kind of escape velocity—a speed, momentum, prominence—which propels them out of the mundane realm of Records I'm Writing About into the realm of Records I Love. (Or put another way, it's Records I'm Listening To For/At Work vs. Records I Bother To Bring Home, Put On My IPod, etc.) I've learned to pay close attention to these transitions, in part because it makes year-end-list writing a whole lot easier. Ideally, my top 10 for a given year consists entirely of records like this—records that have, in a sense, chosen me, rather than the other way around. There are only a small handful of 2013 releases in the running so far, among them Voivod's Target Earth, Suffocation's Pinnacle of Bedlam and the new RVIVR record, The Beauty Between. I don't really think bands deserve pats on the back for cultivating specific kinds of nostalgia, for zeroing in on a given well-established sound, but in this case, I'm not sure that's what RVIVR is doing. I can only speak for myself, how their music strikes my ears, and when I hear them, I think of a certain strain of melodic punk that flourished right around 1994, i.e., the year where my sporadic interest in that style very likely peaked. I cited both Avail and Face to Face in the aforelinked preview, but to get really specific, I'm really talking about songs like this one:
RVIVR isn't necessarily going after the same thing, but I hear something similar in their music—a sense of conviction, of determination to, in some cosmic sense, do better, improving the self and in the process, improving your community. More so than Avail, RVIVR is very much a political band, cultivating a queer-friendly, anti-macho environment at their shows and speaking out against sectors of the punk scene where such inclusiveness isn't thriving. (Learn more via this interview with RVIVR coleader Matt Canino.) But like all the truly great political bands—Fugazi is foremost in my mind—RVIVR finds a way to say what they need to say while keeping it all about the music. Loving a band's message, in other words, doesn't guarantee that you'll love their songs. RVIVR knows that hooks, passion and smart, witty writing—the ingredients in any effective anthem—are just as important.
The Beauty Between is filled with such anthems, to a near-unbelievable extent. Often I accept an album as generally "good," when what I really mean is that I like three or four tracks on it very much. TBB is a totally different case. The entire thing feels sturdy, engaged; you never get the sense that RVIVR are taking their collective eye off the ball. There's just such a feeling of a band really getting it right, for itself and for its supporters, of positive, focused effort. For me, TBB epitomizes the kind of punk that's all about trying—and by that I mean thinking and feeling and doing and working to the best of one's ability. The band's dual-singer-guitarist set-up perfectly encapsulates that. As I say in the TONY piece, there's a sense throughout that Canino and Erica Freas are engaged in a friendly kind of duel—a competition to see who can throw down with the most passion, who can sing out in the rawest and most cathartic way. But, since it's music and not sport, everyone wins.
I'm tempted to recommend a few favorites ("LMD," "Wrong Way/One Way," "Ocean Song" and the track that first sucked me in, "Spider Song"), but to me, this record is a single piece. It doesn't give you the emotional space to want to skip tracks. To my ears, it's a near-perfect example of its style. If you're anything like me, you'll hear it as both familiar and highly unusual—i.e., you'll recognize its pedigree immediately, but you'll have a tougher time processing how it could sound so solid, so convincing, so natural. I cannot wait to hear these songs live.