Rye Coalition – On Top

Rye Coalition, those New Jersey princes of super-rock, are back with a new release, and it couldn’t have been better timed. I could be wrong about this, but I believe this is a very important release for 2002. Rye Coalition not only have their finger on the pulse of a modern sound, but they’ve reached way back in rock history to the blues-based riffs of the early 70s. My ears have been thirsting for something like this, and I’m certain I’m not alone. But if you consider yourself a fan of adjective-free rock, you really need to hear this one.
My perfect description of this band? They’ve somehow found a way to meld AC/DC and Fugazi. (And coming from me, this is the highest of compliments.) Does this sound absurd? Well, it shouldn’t, if you think about it. I’ve always thought that Guy Picotto had an eerie vocal resemblance to the late, great Bon Scott of AC/DC. Think about it: Those upper register wails, the way he pushes his voice to get it as loud as possible. They have a lot more in common than most people are willing to admit.
And anyway, what’s wrong about professing your love for a group like AC/DC? There is no more unifying sound in rock than AC/DC. They are the ultimate bar band, and with Bon Scott at the helm they were the consummate entertainers. If they couldn’t get it done with a simple beat and open guitar chords, it wasn’t worth doing. They are literally the perfect blueprint for rock music in its most stripped down and direct. By being such a prototype, AC/DC is a tough sound to be indifferent about. There isn’t much lurking underneath the surface in their music. You either get them and rock out, or you don’t, and you look with disdain upon the yahoos who sing along and regularly pump their fist to an AC/DC stomper.
Which is what makes this release something different. Rye Coalition’s roots lie in the post-punk, hardcore vein, where Fugazi reign supreme as the band everyone looks up to. These roots are still firmly there. So what we have is a band that has decided to take their music closer to blues-based 60s and 70s rock, while still being “children of Fugazi.” This, my friends, is a brilliant move, and it should serve as a breath of fresh air in the vast sea of Fugazi copycats. Whereas people who are reluctant to get into early rock because their parents and radio have been stuffing it down their throats for years, Rye Coalition has changed the code and found a way to create a whole new breed of “classic rock” that still sounds modern. The band could logically open for Fugazi or Guns ‘n’ Roses and be accepted by both audiences.
Recorded by Steve Albini, who brings his usual dry guitars, thundering drums, and lacerating bass, the band sounds bigger than ever. Ralph Cuseglio rants and struts his way through these 10 cuts, sounding like Guy Piccotto with a belly full of beer. The opening song, “One Daughter Hotter Than One Thousand Suns,” sets the tone: The bass and drums build slowly, followed by the guitars. The dual guitar sound is raw and unaffected, the sound of plugging it straight into an amplifier and turning it up all the way. By the time the song explodes, you’re literally being pummeled by this massive riff. Once the verse enters, the Fugazi influence becomes more apparent, using more dissonant notes and switching up the beats. But Rye Coalition know that you need the money shot: Once the chorus hits, if your fist isn’t in the air, then you’re hopeless. Stick to those Belle & Sebastian disks, buddy.
The way this band can straddle the line between heady hardcore and all-out cock rock, between seriousness and jest (who names a song “Stairway to the Free Bird on the Way to the Smokey Water”?), between 70s rock and modern sounds, well, it blows me away. They can do it all. My personal favorite track is “Heart of Gold, Jacket of Leather.” Over a rousing Led Zeppelin-style riff festival, Cuseglio gives us all a “welcome to Jersey City,” accompanied by a sly “fuck off” and a veiled threat that “New York’s gonna have to pay.” Rock music has gotten so self-serious lately: It’s great to see a band take the opposite approach. Here’s to rock music being fun again!
Long story short: If you like high energy rock music, you want this. You need this. This is the kind of album that can be the catalyst for a movement. And if the results are as rocking as they are here, the possibilities are delicious. These guys are the real deal.