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Common Rider

Common Rider

This is Unity Music (Hopeless)
by Morgan Coe

If you grew up in the United States and listen to punk rock, chances are you went through a year or two of serious Operation Ivy obsession. You got a tattoo, some records, and convinced yourself you were really into ska and "unity."* And you always wondered what happened to the rest of them; you know, the ones who aren't cashing checks full time in Rancid or running obscure record labels and covering the entire West Side Story soundtrack in Schlong. For years, rumors of reunions and side projects flew fast and furious (hey Lookout! Records: My copy of the Downfall record is twelve years late and counting!) but that was all you had until Jesse Michaels surfaced in Common Rider in 1999. And, of course, you had to check out the record. Don't worry, their new one is a huge improvement.

Last Wave Rockers sounded like exactly what it was: The singer from Operation Ivy trying halfheartedly to teach two guys from a second-string pop-punk band (Squirtgun, if you're keeping score) to play on his ska demo. This Is Unity Music sounds like a real album by a real band. They've added a second guitar, taught the rhythm section to play reggae competently, and developed a sound of their own: Half twitchy garage rock, half new wave reggae, and half anthemic punk. If they occasionally lapse into formula (weird verse into sing-along chorus and back) or awkward Jamaican-isms, Common Rider can be forgiven if only because they've managed to pull off a ska-punk record that doesn't rely on cheesy horns and guitar distortion pedals. They may've lost some of the old intensity and energy, but once you get beyond the fact that he's slowed down and doesn't scream as much as he used to, Jesse Michaels is doing a damn good job of staying true to the real Operation Ivy. Not the band that hit big two years after they broke up and spawned a million mall-punk imitators, but the band that played the music they loved no matter how offbeat it seemed at the time.
(PO Box 7495 Van Nuys, CA 91409)

* As I type, I'm wearing a 10 year-old home-stenciled Operation Ivy hoodie, so I'm as guilty as the rest of you. "Some of us grow up, and IT'S STILL THERE!"

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