When you hear the same old riffs being recycled and lyrics that sound like clichés whether or not they actually are, do you begin to wonder if all the guitar-bass-drums permutations that make up rock songs have already been used up? Unfortunately, that’s a question that comes to mind once you dig into “Got What You Need”, the opening track of the Eponymous debut album by Canadian upstarts, Young Rival. While Young Rival bolts out of the gate appealingly enough with some roughed-up lo-fi guitars, the vocals quickly break whatever momentum the band has going for it by stringing together unconnected phrases that must have come from a well-worn rock & roll thesaurus. For up-and-comers trying to stand out, first lines like “Here / Here I go again / There / There you are” aren’t exactly going to draw anyone’s attention. The uninspired lyrics only have a boomerang effect when it comes to appreciating Young Rival’s sound, which, on second thought, seems less spontaneous as a redux of the Strokes’ updating of Television.
“Got What You Need” is representative of the album as whole: Young Rival boasts good vibes and a real jolt of energy, but those building blocks aren’t enough to give much new life to the group’s by-the-numbers approach to garage rock. While it’s not fair to accuse a band with Young Rival’s effort and will of simply going through the motions, there’s too much of a reliance on attitude and not enough originality to make a strong first impression. The debut lacks its own vision, as the quartet retraces the steps of its influences rather than using them as a starting point for its own take on garage rock.
In particular, the impact of the Strokes on Young Rival is too literal: Whereas that band used the tradition of NYC punk as a jumping-off point for its own distinctive approach, Young Rival isn’t quite able to step out of its predecessors’ shadow and seems too rote in expressing its admiration. “Modern Life”, for one, is full of trite fragments, be it the sound-bite lyrics (“Nobody cares / I know why / Cause there’s nothing left / In this modern life”) or the all-too-familiar guitar chug. “Just Can’t Stay Here” doesn’t break any new ground either, especially with singer Aron D’Alesio copping Julian Casablancas’ diffident speak-singing sneer a little too obviously—only the hipster icon is probably too cool to be caught uttering forced rhymes like, “I just can’t stay here / I ain’t no sucker / Don’t want to see that girl I know / Hangin’ out with some fucker”.
It’s when Young Rival gives up the swaggering poses and lets its guard down that the band finds something like its own voice. Once it’s shorn of its shaggy-haired leather-jacket aesthetic, Young Rival comes through with its most appealing and under-the-radar songs, such as “At the Break of Dawn”, which sounds breathless and striving while maintaining a lower profile. Better yet is the aptly named “Don’t Make a Sound”: A song that takes NYC punk—be it the ‘70s original or the millennial version—into the basement, the track is tuneful and vulnerable, more urgent in its quiet, almost whispered tones than any of the more boisterous tunes.
But such moments are frustratingly fleeting, since “Don’t Make a Sound” is followed up by “Workin’”, on which the group sounds less like an overdriven Strokes than an anonymous power trio. In the end, less could be more for Young Rival, since there’s a better EP of fresh material stretched into a less compelling, less original full-length. While Young Rival might be good enough at what it does, the problem is that it has all been done before. And done better than what is offered here.
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