[20 September 2010]
As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, watching the progenitors of youth culture has proven to be an interesting sport. Rap pioneers like Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc have been afforded the elder statesman status they so richly deserve, but Metal has been more hit or miss. For every Rob Halford out there getting it done, there are 10 Ozzys with offstage singers holding it down for them. The hardcore scene has had an even tougher time of it.
Many of the serious players in the game are still at it. This eventuality makes it a continued pleasure to see a Sick Of It All show, but those that are getting on in years and want to convey their songs at a more reasonable volume are finding it tough to make the transition to a world without walls of guitars and drums. The plot thickens considerably when screamers realize they really can’t sing and try to do it anyway. The Dylan and companion folk scene card is an easy, albeit weighty, one to play when it concerns the harmonically challenged. The everyman marker should be afforded the respect it deserves, but the fact is few of the players in the game have the kind of lyrical firepower to back it up.
Austin Lucas and the Drag The River gents are notable exceptions to the rule, but few would question their pipes. The frontmen of Avail, Hot Water Music, Lawrence Arms and the like fall a fair bit shorter when faced with the prospect of more Spartan backing, their standing as great rock singers and/or solid individuals aside.
Walter Schreifels is an interesting facet of this conundrum. Save for Jesse Malin, and maybe Richie Underdog, I don’t believe anyone from the New York hardcore scene has tried to do the solo songwriter thing. The fact that it is Walter Schreifels makes for a more interesting eventuality. Of everyone involved in the NYHC scene, no one has parleyed their position and evolved more to be successful in the fickle world of the music industry.
Starting with Gorilla Biscuits, the band that established the concepts for the melodic hardcore that Lifetime and all the bands that have followed since have stood by, Schreifels was the first to garner mainstream success by melding catchy hooks with the driving guitars and pounding drums that stirred the dance floors at NYHC shows to a frenzy. Tenures in Youth Of Today, Warzone and a gang of other project hardcore bands followed before Schreifels blazed into the ‘90s with the seminal post-hardcore group Quicksand. Singing and playing guitar, backed with Tom Capone of Bold and the powerhouse rhythm section of Sergio Vega and Alan Cage, Quicksand soon got a huge name for themselves, playing the first Warped Tour and garnering a substantial following overseas. Concurrent with Quicksand, Schreifels got together with the old GB crew and wrote them an entire record called Set Your Goals. The band took the name of its frontman Civ and managed to score a decent hit with “Can’t Wait One Minute More”. Schreifels’ role in both franchises held him in Island/Def Jam’s good favor and greased the wheels nicely for a deal when he investigated a smoother sound with Rival Schools United By Fate.
Ever the mercurial soul, the next project Schiefels put together was considerably more Brit-Pop (read: Oasis) based. Walking Concert was well received, but ultimately sidelined for the reformation of Rival Schools, itself a reunification that will seemingly sideline promotion for this, his first true solo release.
It’s a shame, as An Open Letter To The Scene may be the best distillation of all things Walter Schreifels that we’ve heard to date. It’s appropriate, as An Open Letter is the first Eponymous release from our hero. Schreifels sounds alternately very much like Josh Rouse or Matt Keating on the 10 tracks.
The Civ track “Don’t Gotta Prove It” is revisited in that vein, as is the mostly successful cover of the Agnostic Front chestnut “Society Suckers”. These ties to his hardcore roots are allusions that started to unfold the first time I heard the closing “Open Letter”. I didn’t catch the AF cover the first time, but when the chorus of “Don’t Forget The Struggle, Don’t Forget The Streets” rang through the headphones, it was impossible to miss the allusion to NYHC stalwart Warzone or the fact that that the song was about the funeral of charismatic frontman Ray Beez. Unpeel the onion, and the mention of Evan Seinfeld from Biohazard on the opening “Arthur Lee’s Lullaby” prove to be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Craig Finn-ian recollections of a youth as a hardcore kid. Such genuine and unforced recountance is more the norm than the exception here, save perhaps for the fairly insipid song about Little Kim that comes out a little too open-mic night when compared to the rest of the tracks on An Open Letter To The Scene.
There is allegedly another solo record on the way, as well as new full-lengths from the aforementioned Rival Schools and Walk Concert franchises. While the sheer volume of new Schreifels material is an exciting proposition, it’s important that this debut solo release not be lost in a flood of new releases, regardless of their quality. An Open Letter To The Scene is a great record and auspicious solo debut from Walter Schreifels that deserves to be championed.