4 out of 5
Label: Arctic Rodeo
Produced by: Ted Niceley
‘Twas the cusp of 00s, and brewing in New York we had the remnant members of some other bands, coming together and forming a nexus of influences to sell out shows and kick off a label bidding war. A couple of EPs and some hype later, and The New Rising Sons – a somewhat ironic name, in retrospect – were no more.
It’s not a very uncommon story, unfortunately, but often when you wrap back around to hear what was lost, the zeitgeist of the moment that caused whatever sparking interest has passed, and what you’re hearing is maybe good, but maybe no longer great. Sons’ Set It Right – their shelved, never-released-until-20-years-on-by-Arctic-Rodeo album – does not fall into that ‘often’ bucket: it’s damned good now, and must’ve been quite something then, considering we were right around the corner from a revival rock scene that NRS could’ve maybe steered toward a more appreciably grungy and grounded direction.
Several things may seem a little off at first: Set It Right has jangle pop all over it, wholly embellished by singer Kevin McGinnis’ vocal twang. That’s fine – jangle pop had its hits during this era as well, and another quality entry would’ve been good – but then the jangle and slide guitars will shift into rootsy, riff-heavy rock. And then… horns? Like a Brit-pop, 80s-soul vibe, niggling ‘neath those hooks? And then let’s throw in some post-rock angularism, just to keep us on our toes. This isn’t showmanship, though: our songwriters are seasoned, and all of this ties together incredibly smoothly, making for quite instantly appealing melodies. And while I’m still parsing some of McGinnis’ lyrics, this does appear to be the whole package: there’s not a staid, cheap rhyme on display, nor did I hear any easily summarizable subject matter – it’s an album worth listening to, and also listening to.
Backing this up is ace production from Ted Niceley, bringing his warm, crunchy sound to things that’s then given a further polished mix by Andy Wallace, who’s mindful of keeping all of those various elements balanced throughout. So the horns hit, but you never forget you’re listening to a rock band.
That said, we can maybe consider some major label interplay that’d led to release difficulties resulting in some singles bait towards the back half of the disc, and at least one track where that jangle gets away from the group and it’s an Old 97s track. Which is fine, of course, it’s just not the same inventive blend present elsewhere.
So this really was an unreleased gem, and was certainly worthy of the signing scramble back in the day. The vinyl release by Arctic Rodeo sounds great (everything I’ve heard on their label, from a fidelity perspective, does), but even more praiseworthy is that they got this thing released at all.