I don’t listen to a lot of guitar rock. I liked the singles when guitar rock was big in the early ‘00s, but when the crop of “The” bands died down, I was left with a lot of second-rate stuff that didn’t do it for me. So it was much to my surprise when Palace Amusements by The Brixton Riot (check the “the”!) fell into my lap. It’s straight-up guitar rock, but I couldn’t get the songs out of my head. From the catchy opener “Signal to Noise” to the slow-burning “Pinwheel” to the crunchy “Losing Streak,” I just loved it and I couldn’t really explain why. So I went to the source: Jerry Lardieri, vocalist and a guitarist for the band.
I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that the band is composed of long-time friends who just fell into a rhythm after playing together for a while. “When we started out, it was a lot more jangly. When Matt joined the band–he’s a big Husker Du fan–he brought a much louder drum style,” Lardieri said. There is still some jangle to be had, as “Hipster Turns 30” dials back the distorted charge for a mid-tempo tune. But on the whole, the drums and guitars go hard: their attack on “Canvas Shoes” is matched by a passionate vocal performance, while rambunctious performances are posted for both in the country-flavored “Carmelita.”
“ We’re big Wilco fans, from before Wilco got into the experimental stuff. We’re big fans of A.M. and Summerteeth,” explained Lardieri. But through the course of our talk, Lardieri mentioned The Jam, The Buzzcocks, Curtis Mayfield, The Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr. and even Oasis—which gets a humorous shout-out in “Carmelita.”
That track plays a pretty pivotal role in Palace Amusements. The song numerically kicks off the second half of the album, and it’s a big connector track.The powerful “Pinwheel” and wry “Hipster Turns 30” don’t flow neatly into the upbeat rockers “Ocean Avenue” and “Strange Matter,” so “Carmelita” fills the gap. “There was a lot of argument about how to organize the record,” Lardieri said, noting that the band went back and forth with a number of configurations. They each made changes to the order before settling on a “definitive mix,” and it shows: the album flows neatly through moods while keeping an earnest, passionate feel throughout.
It’s detailed touches like that one which ultimately draw me to Palace Amusements: from easter egg lyrics to song order to repeated revisions of the songs (including cutting a whole intro to a tune because it didn’t work in the context of the album), the band put an unusual amount of effort into making the album work. It’s one thing to have great songs, like Brixton Riot does; it’s quite another in this fast-paced media age to thoughtfully, painstakingly, carefully perfect an album.
There’s plenty of great hooks and guitar riffs to be had within the twelve tracks of Palace Amusements, and that was what hooked me. But the members of The Brixton Riot appreciate the album experience, and that’s what keeps me coming back to this satisfying experience.