Here’s a nice post-Christmas surprise: a collaboration between some of the best people involved in the US post-hardcore scene. Specifically, I’m talking about Rival Schools maestro Walter Schreifels (formerly of Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, World’s Fastest Car, and probably two or three other bands I’ve never heard of), and the man behind Onelinedrawing, Jonah Matranga (himself formerly of Far and currently of New End Original). I was expecting this to be just your average split-CD—you know, half the songs by one band, half by the other?—but on the contrary, it’s much more of a true melding of the two projects, with an extremely consistent sound and style throughout. The only real telling point is in who’s singing (it’s hard to mistake Schreifels rough-edged growl for Matranga’s tortured emo-boy vocals), and even then, both vocalists show up in at least one track on here, the fast, sharp, Fugazi-sounding “Take One for the Team”. Simply put, this doesn’t sound like two bands—for all intents and purposes, this is one group, all playing together. I guess the “United by” in the disc’s title wasn’t just for appearance’s sake?
The collaborative aspect of this EP isn’t the only surprise, here: it’s been a while since I’d heard any of Walt Schreifels’ work (not since back in his Quicksand days), and I’m very happy to see that the over-the-top metal touches that always made me leery of Quicksand are long gone. In their place is some downright poppy production, guitars with weird effects, pretty melodies, and the knowledge that rhythm doesn’t have to be fast. I’ve been a Onelinedrawing/New End Original fan for quite some time now, but it looks like I’m going to need to get a hold of Rival Schools’ United by Fate, as well. Of the six songs on this disc, only the first, the blink-and-miss-it bit of studio weirdness “Green Is Good”, is any kind of throwaway; each of the other songs stands very well on its own.
“Take One for the Team” almost harks back to the Rival Schools folks’ hardcore days (other members in RS did time in Iceburn, Shelter, CIV, and Die 116), playing rough and DC-style until the quiet breakdown, where Matranga steps in to take the mic from Schreifels and emote for a while. That switch segues the band(s?) into “Always”, one of my two favorite tracks on the disc, where Matranga really gets a chance to do his thing for a bit, marrying his serene, bright-eyed style of singing to the galloping, frantic drums and walls of guitar for a brilliantly triumphant rock song. “Where I’m From” changes gears yet again, this time for a bit of mellow, almost countryish pop, complete with tambourine and sort-of-slide guitars, which ends up being pretty different from anything either Rival Schools or Onelinedrawing have ever attempted before (at least, that I know of, anyway). Matranga sings one more time on “Be Real”, a melancholy, off-tuned warning about the pitfalls of believing everything people tell you (the good stuff, that is); the song gets oddly drifting and dreampop-like, especially near to the end, which is also something I hadn’t expected from any of these folks.
Finally, the EP’s closer (and my other favorite track here), “Contraire”, brings the house down; although Schreifels sings, the track is less hardcore than it is simple, beautiful rock, reminiscent even of Jane’s Addiction at points, albeit with a little bit of post-hardcore weirdness to it. Man. I wish all collaborations could sound this good.