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April 14, 2006

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AVAIL [I]DIXIE[/I] / [I]4AM FRIDAY[/I] / [I]OVER THE JAMES[/I] REVIEW

Rating: 7.8 / 8.3 / 7.7

You were 16, saw Avail, knew all the words to the CD before you bought the CD-- they were that catchy-- and they got you hooked on murder rates in Richmond, Virginia, and not fighting at shows, back when all you cared about was songs about girls. (Though there, of course, weren't any at Avail shows.) Avail circle-pitted you before you liked circle pits; covered "Pink Houses" when you changed the station on it; connected "Swing Low", some hick-nothing to you, to the South they were from; had a full-time cheerleader, name of Beau Beau. Hard to know where puppy love ends and the real thing starts: I was a teenaged Avail lover, no flag tattoo (their logo, a stickfigure-with-flag, was second on skin only to Hot Water Music's fancy water and flame decal), but when I cracked these reissues, I hadn't forgotten much.

Jade Tree's re-released the three best Avail records, along with as much errata as presumably exists. It seems only fair to ask, why? Given the amount of hate mail I get for the one or two times I've trashed 1994 indie revivals, well, I wouldn't want these people who wish I were dead to think I'm also unfair. Should anybody care about 1990s rec-room hardcore a decade after the fact-- especially when the band is actually still together? Well, yeah: If you care about fun.

The re-released Dixie (which here also includes the Live at the Kings Head Inn 10") features redone liners that include flyers for shows with proto-hardcorers Born Against and Man Is the Bastard and proto-emoers Policy of Three and Hot Water Music; the sound's a similar amalgamation. "On the Nod" emotes beyond what anyone in North would've dared (even Gorilla Biscuits!), but Erik Larson drums at twice ballad-speed. The songs are about being afraid of what people think of you ("On the Nod", "Model"), their city ("Tuning", "Southbound 95"), and friends ("Sidewalk", "Beliefs Pile"), with a quick "Dixieland" nod appended, to let you know what side of the war their granddaddies fought on.

4AM Friday is everybody's favorite Avail record. It has two certified anthems-- "Simple Song" amd "F.C.A."-- to which even my parents know the words; songs about now not caring what people think about you ("Order"); introspection ("92"); porch snaps and a capella vocal jams, plus a very straight "Swing Low" take ; and the definitive anti-fights-at-shows song, "Nameless", which started a fight at every single live Avail show I saw, including the one included here on the now-appended Live at the Bottom of the Hill. "Are you guys not listening to the song, or what?" they ask; they also request a circle pit right afterward!

On Over The James, songs are slicker, slower, longer-- epic, sorta pretentious-- but also the apotheosis of their sound, more or less: All chorus, all the time. Flyers now of the Boy Sets Fire, Lagwagon variety; Hot Water Music still holding strong. Bass player for this record (guy named Gwomper) was pulled, literally, off the street, homeless from a laundry mat and drifting through Richmond, to semi-stardom/basement touring by singer Tim Barry. Songs about still not caring about what people think of you ("Deepwood", "New #2", "Nickel Bridge", "S.R.O.", all of them), but also more about that supposedly repudiated insecurity, this time more anthemic ("Sanctuary 13," "August," Lombardy Street"), and obscure, inscrutable Richmond politics ("Scuffle Town"). The new package features every comp track and single the band released (minus the Attempt To Regress 7", which sees light again on the new Dixie), and this shark-jumping lyric, from "Nickel Bridge": "Two snakes of poison/ Which one do you call friend?/ Two snakes of poison/ Got bit by both in the end

Call these three snapshots: disposable, uncomplicated, a ton of fun when you were there. Throw them on and you're back.

PUBLICATION
Pitchfork Media

AUTHOR
Zach Baron

DIRECT LINK TO ARTICLE
http://www.pitchforkmedia.com