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At first glance, it might be easy to mistake Four Star Riot as flag-bearers for an alternative-rock paradigm that we’ve come to imbue with the warm glow of nostalgia. Make no mistake, there’s plenty of glow in the music on Modern Living (Sept. 22, 2023), the Tampa-St. Petersburg quartet’s seventh full-length. And, it should be noted, the band actually has been with us since the ‘90s. Not to mention that they themselves wouldn’t view their music as standing in opposition to anything in particular. But just because they wouldn’t make this crucial distinction doesn’t mean that their music doesn’t call for it. The fact is, Modern Living is the work of a band that isn’t stuck looking in the rearview mirror.
There are those who insist that there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to music—that we’re all working off the same notes, and that every song has more or less already been written. According to this argument, music is just the same old formulas repackaged and regurgitated over and over. While this line of thinking may be tempting, even true to some degree, no one who hears Modern Living would ever say such a thing. Because they would immediately recognize how, at the end of the day, the music that touches us most conveys an intangible quality that transcends the ingredients that went into its making.
For Four Star Riot, all the elements they picked up back then as both listeners and players never lost their potential for growth. And it’s refreshing in the extreme to be reminded that ‘90s guitar-rock stylings deserve better than to be frozen in time and pulled off the rack like a cheap suit in mothballs. So, if you think of the alt-rock era when listening to Modern Living, you have to do so in the context of what all that great music would have sounded like if had never fallen out of favor—and, more importantly, if musicians had kept developing those sounds for the last three decades. Which—oh, by the way—is precisely what Four Star Riot have been doing all along.
This time, though, they’ve out-done themselves. Frontman/guitarist and principal songwriter Steve Alex has long had a knack for writing the quintessential hook-filled anthem that you want to sing all summer long—the kind of song that’s so satisfying, that fuses itself so seamlessly to your memory that it comes to represent an entire chapter of your life. This time, Alex and his bandmates have come up with an album full of those songs. To name just two, “Adding It Up” and the title track achieve such sublime pop-rock bliss that they’re virtually impossible to hear once without jonesing to listen to them on repeat.
From lead guitarist Finn Walling’s exquisitely tasteful solos to the impeccable feel and timing of bassist Aaron Akers and drummer Mike Chilton, Four Star Riot have honed their craft with such dedication that they’ve gotten to a place where they make it sound easy. Not a single note on the album feels labored, rushed, or forced. And if you ever had any doubts as to whether populist music could have substance and grace, Modern Living will quash those doubts. You may hear familiar echoes of the past, but this time Four Star Riot have delivered the ultimate soundtrack to your present.
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