When I reviewed the Riot Before's 2007 EP, So Long, The Lighthouse, I mentioned that the band's best work was still ahead of them. While So Long... had some great songs on it, the EP was slightly uneven, both in songwriting and individual song production. With Fists Buried in Pockets, the Riot Before makes good on the promise they showed and delivers one of the best, most politically engaging punk albums of the year.
The Richmond band has spent the better part of the last year touring the sweaty clubs and basements of the United States. They have returned from this experience with the memories of sleeping on hardwood stores and a stuffy van still fresh and working their way into the spirit of their songs. The end of their last touring cycle leading up to recording saw the band part ways with long-time lead guitarist, Garrett Berneche. This was compounded with a broken transmission in their van. In addition to embracing the difficulties they have faced, the band also does a better job of using the studio to capture the excitement and girt of their live show, which is one of the best things about the Riot Before.
Not every song on Fists Buried in Pockets is completely new. In fact, two of its best songs, "Threat Level Midnight" and "We Are Wild Stallions," have already appeared on recordings from the band. However, this shouldn't be seen as a fault. The songs haven't seen a wide release, and they've been re-recorded this time around. Not to mention they're both some of the best songs the band has, more than deserving of a wider release. Those songs are joined by other standouts, such as "You Can't Dance Sexy to Punk Rock," "Capillaries" and "Numero Seven." These faster songs are when the Riot Before are at their best. The band isn't about to shake any comparisons to early Against Me or the fellas in Fake Problems, but this time around they've put a lot of effort into crafting their own sound. Much of this is owed to vocalist Brett Adams' lyrics, which often provide a cynical outlook on life in both America and in a band. This approach doesn't always cast Adams in the most favorable light ("I Have My Books"), but it's this self-reflection and honesty that makes his lyrics so appealing, and perhaps familiar.
Adams started the Riot Before as a solo project and continues to write acoustic songs. The inclusion of these songs could have been a shortcoming had the band not taken the care to bridge them to the songs sandwiching them, avoiding the break in momentum that would naturally present itself between songs like "You Can't Dance Sexy..." and "I Have My Books." It's a good thing they're here, too, because "Words Written Over Coffee" is the best mid-tempo folk-inspired punk song I've heard all year.
If the Riot Before haven't won you over with their live show yet, give Fists Buried in Pockets a chance and you'll be counting yourself amongst their hopefully increasing number of fans in no time.