Perhaps the most criminally underrated late-90s band was Christie Front Drive. Lumped in with the Midwestern emo scene and bands such as Mineral and Boys Life, Christie Front Drive had a more textured feel, with amazing guitar work mixed in so that Eric Richter’s vocals seemed a part of the mix, not the discerning element. After CFD’s short-lived run, Richter went on to Antarctica, which released two albums of atmospheric electronic music, before fronting The 101, which brings the whole story full circle.
To those who adored CFD, as I did, Green Street is brilliant. Mixing modern power-pop with hints of CFD’s textured emo, The 101’s style requires repeated listens to embrace Richter’s vocal subtleties and the spartan production that gives the album something of a live feel. The songs rock, but they’re not too intense, not dependant on cheap hooks, and not tiringly derivative.
The album starts off with a catchy guitar riff, and then a slick bass line comes in, before Richter’s comforting voice comes in over top, and “Never In” sets the stage for 10 tracks of strong emo-like power-pop. Things are a bit lighter in tone (hence the “pop” portion of the previous sentence) than you might expect from emo’s unheralded landmark, but that results in a sound that’s accessible and a tad catchy while no less powerful. Take “Wolf” and “Regret,” for example, both with light rhythms that hints at older REM. The former has a layered shoegazey feel, though, and the latter leisurely winds down for five minutes of rock and perfectly intricate guitar effects.
Recorded by Steve Revitte (Liars, Beastie Boys), there’s a slick textured feel to Richter’s guitar that’s straight out of CFD’s best work, and a tempered echo feel is given to his vocals that help them float into the instrumentation instead of standing out. And that’s where they’re best; if they’re a bit hard to decipher, repeated listens bring out the lyrics. “Well I’m supposed to leave, we’ll play it on the inside / We’re on the way ’cause I’m supposed to leave, we’ll play it on the inside / we’re on the way, you have to want to get out for the ones that want to stay alone / I swear Beth’s gone alone,” for example, from the subtly melodic “Beth,” an emo-leaning track that’s a tad softer in tone.
The band changes things up with “Wife,” mixing some acoustic guitars and synths to give the song a unique and head-bobbing bounce. On “Verve,” the guitars have a deliciously mid-90s jangle that hints at Sugar as well as CFD, while guitar effects mid-way through bring to mind My Bloody Valentine or early Stone Roses. “Left On” is a bit softer, rich in bass and percussion, while “Bus Fare” is much more upbeat, almost punky in nature.
At its core, Green Street is a perfect power-pop album. The songs hover around the 3:30 length, and none are too fast or too slow to break the flow of the album as a whole. The three members (bassist Ben Balcomb and drummer Jeremy Jones probably resent the focus on Richter and his former band) contribute well, and the production suits the band’s style. If I mention CFD too often, it can be excused, for fans of that band will love The 101. Still, fans of the more modern emo like The Jealous Sound and Jimmy Eat World might have their new favorite band.