Your Rival | Your Rival USA | PDX-3b (May 13th, 2014)
Your Rival USA, the new four-song EP from Portland-based power-pop outfit Your Rival, was written as a companion piece to last year's Here's To Me. Musically, it can be quite similar—melody and volume abound, and each of the four tracks on Your Rival USA whizzes by at a blisteringly terse pace that fans of the band should be familiar with. Thematically, though, it's a little more mature, benefitting from singer/songwriter Mo Troper’s personal growth and his time spent as a music critic in his native Portland. “I think being a critic has made me more self-conscious as a songwriter,” he says. “Since I have that perspective I feel like I sort of know what aspects of music critics hone in on, and now I find myself reinforcing those aspects so maybe they're a little less vulnerable to criticism.” If Here's To Me was a "high school apocalypse record," then Your Rival USA is the sound of the dust settling. These songs are impetuous kids fighting to come to terms with the stark banality of adulthood.
On opener “Border Patrol,” singer/songwriter Mo Troper bemoans his inability to detect boundaries; he yearns to be taken seriously after years as the resident harlequin in "New Korea"; and "Hadley" is a quasi-ironic, sickeningly saccharine send-up of the teenage romantic feelings articulated at great pains on Here's To Me. It's all rounded out by a lengthy, imaginative cover of Beyonce's "Irreplaceable,” a kiss-off hit that Your Rival has transformed into something equal parts triumphant and disconsolate.
In the past year, Your Rival has solidified itself as a five-piece (with longtime drummer Nate Sonenfeld, bassist Sonia Weber, and guitarists Lee Ellis and Parker Johnson joining Troper, who now handles lead vocal duties exclusively), growing louder and tighter with each new show. Troper’s songwriting continues to improve, as well. “I'm still just trying to write good pop songs,” he says of the new collection. “I think if my songwriting has evolved it's simply because I'm older and have accumulated more life experience. I wrote the bulk of Here's To Me when I was 18 or 19. This new EP was written all last year, when I was 21.”
Despite being (barely) drinking age, Troper is an outspoken advocate for Portland's troubled underage music scene (he writes a column in the Portland Mercury spotlighting each week's best all-ages shows). "If your background is in the all-ages scene, which ours is, then it's hard to break out of that even when you're old enough to go to bars," says Troper. "We still play bar shows, and appreciate the opportunities we have now that we're all over 21—but I'm also never going to turn my back on my roots."
Your Rival USA is being sold through Genero.us — a new pay what you want platform from the creative team at Portland’s Tender Loving Empire — and 20% of all proceeds go to XRAY.fm, an independent, mixed format, non profit radio station that puts a boom mic to the best and most distinctive of Portland, Oregon.
Your Rival | Here's to Me | PDX-003 (October 22nd, 2013)
Your Rival frontman Mo Troper says he set out to make a “high school romantic apocalypse record” with his band’s debut album, Here’s to Me.
It’s a fitting theme, as Troper and founding drummer Nate Sonenfeld started the band while still in high school, soon after discovering they shared influences from decades before either of them were born. An “epic bromance” followed, and within a year, Your Rival had released its staggering 2011 EP, Seven Sparkling Children, which delivered on the promise of its title by cartwheeling across the seldom-trodden bridge that connects classic power-pop and future-classic early emo. The self-released cassette earned comparisons to the likes of Superchunk, Beulah, Big Star, Promise Ring and the Kinks—which is to say that people found a lot of fancy ways to explain how Troper’s songs got stuck in their heads.
After spending the remainder of 2011 playing just about any house or bar that would have them, Troper, Sonenfeld and producer Clayton Knapp (of Party Damage’s own Wild Ones) entered the studio in 2012 with a clutch of songs penned by Troper in his late teens. Soon after tracking drums, however, Knapp blew out an eardrum and was forced to abandon the project, leaving the Your Rival boys to fend for themselves.
Without a producer, but with Sonenfeld’s drum tracks in the can, Troper recorded the rest of what would become Here’s To Me by himself through the following winter and spring. The delay was a bitter pill for such an eager band barely removed from high school, but the change in plans ultimately resulted in an album that plays to Your Rival’s dual strengths, with Troper’s pure pop leanings roughed up by a DIY aesthetic that honors the group’s roots in Portland’s all-ages house show scene.
Here’s to Me builds on the promise of Seven Sparkling Children, but trades the EP’s airy fairy tale songs for something darker and more angst-driven. The album’s manic-depressive vacillations—between fuzzed-out anthems and bedroom-bound acoustic plaints—succeed in conjuring the emotional whirlwind Troper was aiming to construct, but his turns of phrase, his brilliantly tortured voice, and his infectious melodies combine to make this more than just a standard-issue high school romantic apocalypse record: This is a lo-fi masterpiece reminiscent of Weezer’s Pinkerton and Jawbreaker’s Dear You.
Having struck upon a noisier, rowdier sound on Here’s to Me, Troper and Sonenfeld recruited friends from the Portland punk scene to bring that intensity to the stage. And so the “Me” of the album’s title is now a “We,” consisting of Troper, Sonenfeld (who also drums for Sloths), guitarist Parker Johnson (of grind weirdos GrandFather), bassist Sonia Weber (Our First Brains) and newest addition Lee Ellis (Lee Corey Oswald and Carrion Spring), whose assumption of guitar duties gives Troper the opportunity to focus solely on singing.
“I really just want to sing now and make my teenage rock frontman fantasies come true,” Troper says. He survived the apocalypse, so why not?