Singer-guitarist Walter Schreifels spent the ’90s trying to infiltrate the mainstream with Quicksand, a group second only to Fugazi in the post-hardcore pantheon. Quicksand triumphed artistically but flopped commercially—so when Schreifels’ next project, Rival Schools, released the anthemic United By Fate in 2001, it was hard not to see the album as a concession to the masses. But United’s Foo Fighters-meets-Sunny Day Real Estate sound didn’t break through either, even though it’s one of Schreifels’ best and most influential releases.
After a shelved second album, Rival Schools has returned with Pedals. Wisely, it follows United’s recipe of dynamic pop-rock and raw, old-school emo. It just doesn’t squeeze as much from the formula. “Wring It Out” and “Shot After Shot” retain a mid-fi edge as well as Schreifels’ surging hooks and earnest rasp—but when, on “Wring It Out,” he sings, “I’ve been down / It’s not easy to start again,” it’s a little too apt. Much of the album coasts on moody spaciousness, though the bland jangle of “69 Guns” and “A Parts By B Actors” sets up some spectacular choruses. Lopsided riffs and a misplaced, Quicksand-like heaviness mar “Choose Your Own Adventure” and “The Ghost Is Out There,” dampening the force that made Rival Schools so irresistible in the first place: a passion for the fine art of the shout-along.