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GURNETT: Rifts album is a strong first effort

After spending a little over a year on the Buffalo scene, The Rifts were named "Best Original Rock Band" at the 2016 Buffalo Nightlife Music Awards. Now, to kick off their second year, the band has released their first EP, Off the Rails. It’s a very strong first effort on a technical scale, from top to bottom. Creatively, however, the band has some things they need to work on. Formed in March of 2016, the Buffalo-based The Rifts -- Cory Clancy (lead guitar), Brendan Hoare (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Ryan Donohue (bass) and Dylan MacDonell (drums)-- got their start in Fredonia. The five-song Off the Rails has a late 80’s/early 90’s blues-rock sound (think Aerosmith of that era). The opening track, “Twelve,” is a perfect example of this. The performances are solid, with the band providing an energetic, upbeat vibe, but the band doesn’t really do anything to set themselves apart from their influences. The chorus hook is catchy enough, but it’s really just a basic blues progression with some overly simplistic lyrics. (“Showtime/Here I go/and I wish you all the best/but I hope that door hits you/cuz I know you’re just part of the rest.”) The lyrics remain a problem throughout the EP. “Letdown” is the kind of song you’d imagine coming off an early 90’s Motley Crue record. It starts with single snare drum hits, using that quintessential late 80’s hard rock reverb sound. “Burn Out” has a slick, Stone Temple Pilots feel. Generally, the chord changes and songwriting structures feel stale and boring. Every song even has the genre’s mandatory guitar solo that is, by all technical accounts, excellent but predictable. The rhythm section is solid, with the drums sounding clear and precise, and the bass having interesting walking parts and a nice chunky, low tone that stands out from others in the genre. Hoare has a nice vocal range reminiscent of 90’s mainstays like Stone Temple Pilots and the Toadies. That said, in addition to the rudimentary lyrics (“I stopped trying to make sense of things I’ll never understand/It’s hard for me to say when things don’t go as planned”), which are cheesy more often than not, my biggest problem with the vocals is the rhythm and melody. Hoare sounds like a high school singer who hasn’t taken the time to really think through his vocal parts. The songwriting feels rushed, like he’s trying to squeeze in more words than he has time for or that fit rhythmically. Sometimes things like this can be fixed by using simple contractions (i.e. “he’s” instead of “he is”); other times a quick perusal of a thesaurus offers a solution. I always tell young musicians to practice songwriting the same way you would an instrument. It’s a skill, a muscle, that needs to be exercised. The Rifts’ music could stand on its own, if the vocals were truly something special, but right now they’re not. These guys are quality musicians and I think they have the potential to make some really good music. Off the Tracks is an encouraging start, but there is room for improvement when it comes to songwriting. If the group puts more time and effort into their songwriting, The Rifts should be able to find what makes them truly unique and grasp it.
On a somewhat unrelated note, I can’t help but mention that Off the Tracks’ cover uses the exact same artwork as Mr. Big’s 1991 album Lean Into It, which you may remember from the #1 hit “To Be With You.” Off the Rails actually reminds me of Mr. Big -- coincidence? You can check out The Rifts at www.facebook.com/theriftsny and soundcloud.com/therifts.

Ryan Gurnett has a B.S. in Music Industry from The College of St Rose. He has worked as a studio engineer, live sound engineer, producer and sound editor and has been a musician for 25 years. He is currently the bassist for The Lady, or the Tiger?. Email him at never_really_been@hotmail.com or find him on Twitter @SirWilliamIdol.

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