Say it with me: Rival Sons. Get used to the name, because odds are you’ll be hearing it often in the coming years.
Rival Sons are a rock n’ roll outfit from Los Angeles who are slowly but surely gaining steam to take over the world. While their popularity is steadily growing in the U.S., the band is well-known on foreign shores, particularly in the UK, where they have an extensive fan base. Rival Sons released their debut album Before the Fire in 2009 and followed it up in 2011 with a self-titled EP and their career-changing sophomore release Pressure and Time. They have been likened to Led Zeppelin more times than one could possibly keep track of, a double-edged sword that might explain the group’s noticeable evolution in their latest, highly-anticipated release Head Down.
Pressure and Time easily made my top five albums list for 2011–it was very raw, with a live feel to it that reflected the speed and determination with which the band attacked the project (allegedly writing and recording the entire album in less than one month’s time). I had the good fortune of seeing Rival Sons play the Hollywood Palladium last October, and I was pleased to discover that the band is just as good live as they are in the studio – possibly better. It was apparent that the live vibe present in Pressure and Time was honestly translated from the typical Rival Sons concert experience. All that said, I was interested to see if Head Down (which went live for purchase on iTunes on September 18) would follow in a similar vein or if Rival Sons would head in a new direction.
The album kicks off with the single “Keep on Swinging,” a catchy track which, despite its use of numerous clichés, makes a statement through its lyrics alone: “Hey, hey I keep my head down but I keep on swingin’.” The album continues to pick up with “Wild Animal,” and by the third song, singer Jay Buchanan is back and better than ever with his explosive vocals in “You Want To.” The group returns to their bluesy roots in “Run from Revelation,” with props going out to guitarist Scott Holiday for his addictive riff, bringing it forth initially as a short solo before folding the notes beneath Buchanan’s equally powerful voice, all while bassist Robin Everhart holds everything together. All of the band members bring their best work to the table in “The Heist,” a song that is discernibly more produced than most of the songs off Pressure and Time but which thrives from the extra attention. In addition to the layered harmonies and elongated reverb incorporated in the song, drummer Michael Miley gets the opportunity to blow listeners away with an impressive rollicking beat.
It would be wrong to go on without mentioning “Manifest Destiny – Pt.1” and “Manifest Destiny – Pt. 2,” deep-digging tracks tied together in both name and sound. Round one attacks with the unique pairing of echoing reverb and Buchanan’s high-pitched vocals; “Part 2” follows as a continuation of “Part 1” but with the addition of a far-away blues harmonica. Together, these tracks stand as blues and rock models of the modern era.
The superstar rock n’ roll bands of the 1960s and 1970s that undoubtedly influenced Rival Sons’ music are still present in Head Down, but in a more muted way this time around. The pressure of having such parallels drawn to a band like Rival Sons (or to any band, for that matter) is great, but influences are impossible to deny, and all music lovers use some yardstick or other to measure new bands and compare new music to that of previous generations. Still, Head Down comes across as different from other Rival Sons albums. It has a new voice behind it, one that is every bit as hardcore rock n’ roll as their earlier works but which crafts its own identity. Rival Sons do not simply play rock music on Head Down: they put forth a solid body of work that is distinctly theirs and well worth the wait.
Check out the song samples on YouTube below to see if you agree, or learn more about Rival Sons on their website.