RFA Stake Their Claim with “Something New”

Featured image courtesy of the artist

Are they better live or on their records? It’s a debate that I frequently have among friends when we discuss some of our favorite bands. It’s not a critique so much as a discussion about how the experience of listening to the recorded track differs from what the band brings to the song live. Generally speaking, there are three kinds of bands in this regard: There’s the band who go into epic improvised jams (read: Phish, Tame Impala, Dave Matthews Band), the performer who engage their audience with visual and theatrical elements that reinterpret or accentuate certain themes in the music (Beach House, St. Vincent, David Bowie), and, finally, there’s the band who can blow the windows out of a room inciting mass dancing/moshing through their sheer explosive energy (Pearl Jam, Kendrick Lamar, The Districts).

In listening to Philadelphia Rock quartet RFA, I’ve found they to fall in the third category. This band can pack a room (or, more often, basements) full of people and drive them fucking wild with their potent combination of catchy melodies and tight, yet raging instrumentals. On their latest release Something New from RFA, members Alec Powell (drums), Brendan McHale (bass), Christian Turzo (lead guitar), and frontman Dan Cousart (vocals/rhythm guitar) delivered a record that perfectly captures the spirit and energy that makes them one of the most exciting bands breaking out of Philadelphia’s music scene. This, to anyone who is familiar with RFA’s brand of high octane Rock N Roll, makes for a wonderful record. But Something New does more than offer a glimpse into the band as a live act. Cousart’s lyrics are genuinely heart-felt songs that capture the highs and lows of young adult life in college. It’s confident, yet searching. Bold but self-aware. Wild but deliberate. On Something New, RFA have managed to create a record that represents  next step creatively as well as establish who they are as a band.

Album art courtesy of the Artist

Album art courtesy of the Artist

The EP whirs to life on its first track “Saturday, January 24th” opening in a semi-conscious, morning-after daze in unknown apartment somewhere out in North Philly. Cousart sets the scene in a bleary-eyed murmur as he examines his friends “lying in a pool of their own devices” and the cold, bleak morning outside as he attempts to piece together the night before. Sporting an angry hangover and an unknown number scribbled on his hand, there’s no doubt there’s a certain resignation with this wild lifestyle as Cousart finds himself longing for the predictability of home. It’s a sobering sentiment that represents a new development in his songwriting that adds real emotional depth of RFA’s music. “Saturday” sets the lyrical tone of the record, though, the rest explodes into a storm of thumpin’ bass, blazing drums, and riff-happy guitars. 

The other songs  are everything we’ve come to know and expect from RFA taken to a whole new level. The band, seemingly itching to rip it after the EP’s cold opener, roars to life on the punchy and defiant”I’m Not Telling You,” which details a “disjointed”, yet mutually self-serving relationship. “She Used to think I was something special/Something so much more than scum” Coursart howls as Turzo and McHale embellish the track through shimmering guitar riffs and chunky bass lines.

“What’s Your Name” by comparison takes a somewhat cheeky approach, as Cousart sings of a guy “Somewhere caught up between two loves/Was caught up in the daze” who goes through the motions and only just remembers to ask her name as he’s about to leave. One of the more amazing elements on this record is how Powell’s drumming simultaneously holds everything together while adding to the overall chaos. His thunderous fills drive “Indigo” into the bridge as Cousart calls out to “Lock up the bedroom/Lock all the windows!” The EP’s finishes in spectacular fashion with “Swell,” a full out dash to the finish that culminates in some of the most infectious gang vocals I’ve ever heard.

Where it’s predecessor Freaking Out was a solid, yet somewhat overly polished record, RFA and producer Daniel Siper (of Mike Pays Heat) found a way to bring out their onstage chemistry and charm to the record. Nothing is too thought out, overly elaborate, or drawn out. Julian Casablancas can pull off the irreverent cool guy effortlessly, but being the cool guy who never cares can become tiresome (as fans and bandmates both found out). It’d be easy to draw the comparison between them and The Strokes, however, where they differ is that The Strokes operated on certain degree of irreverence. RFA is having the time of their lives and aren’t ashamed to show it on each song on this EP. With Something New, RFA have staked their claim as the next great Philadelphia Rock band. This EP, without a doubt, will go down as one of my top five releases for 2016.

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