Red Collar | Pilgrim (s/r)

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cd_red-collar.jpgThey've got the thrash and manic energy of early Idlewild propelling a Piedmont bar band as well as the strains of mid-Atlantic rock without being Southern rock.







Don't underestimate Red Collar. Like the guy at the bar dressed in flannel, oil-stained jeans and a battered cap who turns out to be able to effortlessly quote Sartre and Vonnegut, or that calculus-flipping janitor freak in Good Will Hunting, an initially unassuming front masks a pounding heart and fierce intellect. You can't quite tell what this music is more indebted to: noisy, clangy indie fare, standard bar band rock or Clash-inspired bandit punk. They've got the thrash and manic energy of early Idlewild propelling a Piedmont bar band as well as the strains of mid-Atlantic rock without being Southern rock.

Unrelenting, fuzz-bassed tunes such as "Rust Belt Heart" represent possible end products of playing a Hold Steady 33 on 45 rpm. There's fewer blatant classic rock aping and far less alcoholism, but just as much swagger and fist-pounding volume. "Stay" welcomes in an initially oddball but undeniably powerful combination of indie jangle, anthemic backing-vocaled choruses and the frenetic low-fi Fugazi thrust that pervades the rest of the album. "Tools" bristles with a no-nonsense intensity, riffs crashing around you like waves whipped up by the fiercest winter storm. "Radio On" rides a propulsive bassline and stick-in-your-head melody into a ringing chorus. These are impressive tunes that make you sheepishly say, "Wait, these dudes can do this?"

If Pilgrim has an Achilles heel, it'd be its relative lack of light and shade; an entire album of such bashed-out power would border on overkill. Thankfully, there are a few moments of respite. "The Commuter" doesn't shy away from bluster, but uses a well-crafted, slow burning intro to segue dramatically into its amped-up tale of working-class angst. "Tonight" dials down the bluster, delivering a slightly atonal yet engaging meditation. "Used Guitars" is no ballad, but it's infused with a refined melancholy that gives it a softer edge than the rest of the LP; it's Springsteen at his most reflective by way of a less greaser-inspired Gaslight Anthem. The band would be well served to further develop this aspect of their sound; they do it equally as well as the harder stuff.

Red Collar don't really do flash; instead, they tend to exude an underwhelming meat-and-potatoes rock vibe. But as supplementary data can be transmitted in the unused portions of TV signals, Pilgrim uses every available inch of its available bandwidth. It's not overtly political nor stumbling-down drunk, and not populist schlock, but the result is wide-ranging: heartfelt, satisfying and more than meets the ear. Just be willing to stick with it just a little longer than you might be under average circumstances; I promise it's worth the wait. B+ | Mike Rengel

RIYL: A less humorless Fugazi; Joe Strummer commandeering the Hold Steady; The National; the first couple of Idlewild records

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