The veteran ragged power-pop band The Brixton Riot will celebrate “Close Counts,” their third release, second full-length and label debut for Mint 400 Records, on Nov. 3 at a show to be presented by CoolDad Music at the Asbury Park Yacht Club, with Dentist and RocknRoll HiFives.
While not the most dangerous-sounding act on the planet, The Brixton Riot are extremely passionate about their ragged power pop, as well as music in general. The band is named after the 1981 altercation between police and residents of the South London neighborhood whose tensions were depicted a little more than a year before in the classic Clash song, “The Guns of Brixton.”
Although there aren’t any riotous tracks on The Brixton Riot’s 11-song sophomore LP and Mint 400 Records debut, Close Counts, there are two exceptional nuggets. The Jam-like, tongue-in-cheek “The Ballad of Pete Best” honors the original Beatles drummer while also having a spot of fun with him, as well as the listener. I woke up this morning with the catchy tune in my head, which, to me, means it’s a great song.
My other favorite, “Little Spark,” is a love song for vinyl junkies in the spirit of “Left of the Dial,” The Replacements’ salute to college and public radio. Boasting a Jam/Style Council-like Motown-inspired bassline from the effortlessly talented Steve Hass, the tune also sports one of the best verses this year by a local band: “And the needle came down. We were ‘Sighting in the Sound.’ Black vinyl spinnin’ on the turntable. And the sound that we heard at 33 and a third, till the arm was resting up against the label.” In that verse, the band also give a nod to The Bats, a New Zealand alt-rock band who are one of vocalist-guitarist Jerry Lardieri’s faves.
Throughout Close Counts,The Brixton Riot often reference The Jam and The Replacements, two of their biggest influences. From the opening swagger of “Can’t Stop Now” and the Alex Chilton tradition of “Hector Quasar” to the Westerberg wordplay of “Caroline” and the “Answering Machine”-like “Talk about Nothing,” the Mats matter mightily in the minds of The Brixton Riot, whose members also include tasteful lead guitarist Mark Wright and stylized drummer Matt Horutz. Meanwhile, The Jam also factor in “Slow Evolution,” a delicious ditty that is the record’s only political statement — about starts and stops of racial, economic and environmental progress.
What’s fascinating about The Brixton Riot is that they successfully fuse their American and British influences, often on the same song and from disparate places. For instance, while clocking in under 4 minutes, “Caroline” opens with a long Who-like drum-driven intro before it replaces that with a Replacements vibe. And on “Talk About Nothing,” the breaks in the otherwise punk-fueled rant recall the perfect pop of XTC.
Elvis Costello (“Slow Evolution,” “Easier Said than Done”) and Nirvana and The Pixies (“Surrender to the Void”) also inform the band’s strong songwriting. Damn they have good taste!
I just wish that an album from a band with a name like The Brixton Riot offered more of the explosiveness, tension, reggae and ska that were the sounds of the actual riots. I was hoping that there would be more of the Clash influence heard on “Keep It Like a Secret” from the 2012 full-length debut, Palace Amusements. While I have no complaints from a performance standpoint — these guys can play their arses off — from a songwriting standpoint, I could do without the lyrical repetitiveness of “Slow Evolution,” “Easier Said Than Done” and “Caroline.” More fully developed lyrics would have made those tracks even stronger and matched their magnificent melodies, as well as their execution.
Together nearly 11 years and known as the band who inspired the name of the popular WFDU indie-rock radio show, “Signal to Noise” (another tasty track from Palace Amusements) The Brixton Riot also have the love of CoolDad Music. The cherished music site will present their release party on Nov. 3 at Asbury Park Yacht Club with Dentist and RocknRoll HiFives. The Brixton Riot also will participate in Asbury Underground with an acoustic show Oct. 14 at Heaven Gallery.
I’ll leave you with this show suggestion: The Brixton Riot, The Cryptkeeper Five, The Vansaders and Mr. Payday. All four are sitting squarely in my Top 10 of local releases. Sounds like it could be a helluva bash at Pet Shop Bar, Millhill or Bond Street. Who’s down?
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. Like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.