River City Extension, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger
Okay, so the writeups I’ve seen for New Jerseyans River City Extension make a big deal about how the band’s the only band to ever be asked to play both the Newport Folk Festival and the Vans Warped Tour, but that’s a red herring.
I mean, yes, it’s extremely cool to see a band bridge a seeming musical divide like that, but honestly, I think there’re two wrongheaded assumptions here. For one thing, I suspect that the band got on the Warped Tour at least in part because they’re signed to XOXO Records, aka the home of The Gaslight Anthem; I’d bet Anthem fans who’re familiar with the label have at least a name-recognition-level familiarity with the label’s other, non-Anthem bands.
For another, I think pointing to the whole “folkies playing Warped!” thing doesn’t give the fans who hit the Warped Tour enough credit. Most people, believe it or not, don’t only listen to one thing, one genre or style of music, and the Warped kids are no exception. I’ve seen folk bands and rap acts play Warped and get a great reception, because hey, people who actually like music like music that’s good, whatever the hell you want to call it.
All of which, by the by, is a long-winded way to say that yes, River City Extension are a good band. Hell, they’re damn good, truth be told, and full-length Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Anger is one of the most arresting things I’ve heard lately.
Frontman Joe Michelini’s the focus of things, and rightly so, because he’s one hell of a songwriter. Michelini deftly steps between folk-y subgenres, shifting between gritty, deep-voiced, Dylan-esque, straight-ahead folk, like on the deceptively-titled “Standing Outside A Southern Riot” (which is awesome and subtle and full of all-too-human doubt), full-throated countrified rock like “There & Back Again” (which reaches nearly the epic heights of another Jersey native who happens to go by a fairly well-known moniker), and jaunty, rollicking tunes like “Down, Down, Down” (which almost turns into the Sideshow Tramps at points), and he does it without making things feel forced or artificial.
In terms of songwriting, I hear a great, great resemblance to Okkervil River’s Will Sheff, and that’s not something I throw out lightly, because Sheff is — in my opinion, anyway — one of the best freaking songwriters in this generation. Listening to Michelini’s raggedy-edged, deep-down voice and thoughtful, playful-yet-desperate lyrics, I hear an echo of the best Okkervil River songs, and that’s no bad thing.
The aforementioned “Standing Outside A Southern Riot” is a definite high point on Anger, as is the deliberate-sounding, quietly pretty “If You Need Me Back In Brooklyn,” which makes me think of Houstonians Buxton with its delicately interwoven male/female vocals. There’s also “The Fall and The Need To Be Free,” which is somber and sincere, but still unrepentantly bleak; I really love the part after the break, where the vocals turn into an angelic chorus of “ooo”s in the background as the music rolls on. “Ballad of Oregon” is a great track, too, with a Waterboys-sounding arrangement and a whole bucketfull of joyful hope hanging by its side.
So again, ignore the “hey, these guys are folky and punk!” trope, because A) it’s not true, really, and B) it’s totally unnecessary. River City Extension are folky, sure but what they are beyond that, quite simply, is brilliant. And that shouldn’t need any extra hype.
(Feature photo by Danny Clinch.)