Plenty of readers will see the cover art of this record, with its kid riding a bike and seemingly silly band name, and not read this review. They’ll assume it’s a pop punk record, and a good portion of the folks who gave it the benefit of the doubt will now close this window when I confirm this is indeed a pop punk record. But it’s not pop punk in a childish “hey lets go ride our bikes by our crush’s house” sort of way. The Golden Age reflects on those bike rides sure, but the storytelling style is far more like the Hold Steady than the Starting Line. Just much much faster.
Vocalist Chris Scaduto delivers each line with plenty of sandpaper wrapping, but under the gritty croon lays a manic passion that makes every catchy hook feel like a happy mistake. Perhaps it’s a side effect of the almost total lack of choruses to build a comfortable reference point for the melody. The sudden shifts in songwriting style, without the comfortable return to a chorus, leave Scaduto constantly moving forward like a writer who simply can’t stop for fear that his pen will forget what it has to say. With no cute choruses to make an impression with Go Rydell’s singer makes each song a constantly evolving chorus, from delivery to lyrics.
The Golden Age is a lyrical a crash course in mid-20s anxiety. Your friends aren’t as close as when you were kids. The freedom of youth clashes constantly with responsibility. Shit, you think about what kind of parent you’ll be but don’t you kind of miss secret basement shows too? Scaduto’s journal is splayed wide open on this record, but his honest and often mature musings are equal parts essential mosh pit sing-a-long and post-college therapy session. I’m personally fond of this line from “Suck Brick Kid”, “We are story makers, but there is no fiction here. These are those kinds of nights that I will never mention to my kids because I want them to find out themselves.”
Of course the best lyrical and vocal delivery still needs songs to go over them. Thankfully Go Rydell’s musical foundation is just as compelling as its sing-a-long side. At first blush there is an obvious Kid Dynamite influence here from the song lengths to their croaking yet snotty vocalist. They’re fair comparisons and since Kid Dynamite isn’t making records anymore I’m not opposed to having another band on the scene keeping the sound alive. Still these songs are more than just compelling clones and the band uses every possible second to show what they’ve got.
“1955”s hardcore stomp and churning guitars perfectly frame the rage of its first half while subtly evolving for the last minute to lift the song’s hopeful refrain about racial tolerance up with a sudden groundswell of half time bounce and gang vocals.
By evolving musically with the lyrics Go Rydell takes a really powerful line referencing the igniting of the US civil rights movement (“I had this friend when I was thirteen and he said “One day I want to be president”. Laughter clouded his spirit but he stood strong and right then I knew that 1955; Montgomery is still burning inside us all.”) and builds a pedestal of marching guitars and gang vocals to spotlight the moment. Since the record only has nine more songs I’ll just say that it’s made up of moments just like this. Musical backbones seldom match the lyrics as well as they do the vocals. Here it’s rule of the day.
It’s hard to make an impression in fourteen minutes, let alone when literally none of your songs surpass the two minute mark. Go Rydell have a record free of choruses or singles. Yet The Golden Age is one of the most compelling punk records I’ve heard in 2010. Its weaknesses, namely sounding almost scarily like Kid Dynamite, are obvious. But its strengths are remarkable, be it their storytelling lyrics to the constantly evolving nature of every aspect of their songs from vocals to random cowbell hits. Oh, and Go Rydell have only been playing for about a year. I’m hoping this is a warning shot of even better things to come. If not I’ll at least get to enjoy their Golden Age.