May 8, 2010

Review: Walter Schreifels | An Open Letter To The Scene [MP3]

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Walter Schreifels' new record is that it sounds completely effortless, like the hardcore/post-hardcore luminary is not even breaking a sweat, like the music simply exists out there in the universe waiting to flow through whenever Mr. Schreifels picks up a guitar and opens his mouth. There are, of course, other surprises: for example, sometimes when Schreifels here picks up a guitar and opens his mouth the music sounds like Squeeze, or John Cougar, or Maritime. But these surprises do not eclipse Schreifels' startling ease with acoustic pop in the wake of decades in which he helped define New York Hardcore with Gorilla Biscuits and then mapped successive escape routes from the genre beginning with the incendiary post-hardcore act Quicksand. More years and more bands followed, and now, finally, Schreifels released last week a record under his own name.

Let's reiterate: it is odd -- at least for those of us who have only anecdotally followed Schreifels' career for the last decade -- to hear one of the most important figures in hardcore music release a record of beautiful acoustic pop. Schreifels' web site contains a note stating this is the sort of material he has been playing in acoustic sets in recent years; the note also states the songwriter had been looking to The Beatles, The Byrds and Donovan for inspiration as he was writing An Open Letter To The Scene. But it is not the influence of classic rock bands that makes the record special, it is the synthesis of those bands and others, and a synthesis of that music and Schreifels' facility with hooks and emotive lyrics.

The addictive album opener "Arthur Lee's Lullabye" is perhaps as much about the legendary fronter of Love as it is about Schreifels himself proclaiming his own freedom from his musical past ("the scene, you don't need them"). The title track may be, as friend and Daily Buzzard scribe Jim suggests, Mr. Schreifels' eulogy for the hardcore scene or CBGB's (or both). Our take is the tune is a light-hearted shot at those who have taken hardcore and Schreifels so seriously that he is compelled to write a song that closes a chapter in his life. In that context, An Open Letter To The Scene is a classic Dear John letter. It's not you, reader, it's Walter. Even so, discussion of the larger themes at play does a disservice to the sublime moments scattered across the record: the da-da-da's in "She Is To Me;" the world-weary drawl of the first line in the second verse of "Save The Saveables;" the poignant, soft electric piano in the tragic "Wild Pandas;" the explosion of hooks that is the smile-inducing "Ballad of Lil' Kim." Because, in the end, it is about great songs, and not about where Schreifels has been or where he is going. An Open Letter To The Scene certainly summarizes Schreifels' musical past -- so much discarded snake skin -- but more importantly it frees him from its confines once and for all.

Walter Schreifels -- "Arthur Lee's Lullabye" -- An Open Letter To The Scene
[right click and save as; MP3 via Schreifels' promo co. Okay! Okay!]
[buy An Open Letter To The Scene from Dine Alone here or Big Scary Monsters here]

Walter Schreifels: Internerds | MySpace | YouTube | Flickr

05.14 -- The Tower -- Bremen, DE
05.15 -- Gruner Jager -- Hamburg, DE
05.16 -- Bunker Ulmenwall -- Beilefeld, DE
05.17 -- Schlachthof -- Wiesbaden, DE
05.18 -- Blue Shell -- Köln, DE
05.19 -- St. Gallen -- Gabenhalle, CH

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