Since 2004, Tim Barry has been writing songs, recording records, and touring the country relentlessly. He’s devoted to his craft, ensuring that each new record he makes takes a step forward sonically, while building more ornate accompaniments around them. Not only that, he enjoys getting his hands dirty, packing and sending out merch to fans the world over, and hopping in a van to play songs for them.
Barry’s work ethic is singular in that way, but it’s indicative of the person he’s been all along, and a craft he honed in his first band, Avail. At this point, it’s been a decade since Avail has played a show, and it’s been a full 15 years since their last album, 2002’s Front Porch Stories. And in that time, it’s entirely likely that Barry has cultivated an audience that, at least in part, is unaware of his time spent singing in one of Richmond, Virginia’s most important musical exports. If you fit that bill, we’ve put together a guide to Avail, a band that stood out of time by following their own path. You may not have the opportunity to take in one of the band’s legendary live sets in the present day, but the records have aged just as well, and remain vital no matter how much dust sits atop them.
“Simple Song” from 4am Friday (1996)
Avail may never have managed to finagle a hit song, but “Simple Song” is their closest approximation of it. The lead track from the band’s third album 4am Friday, it’s the Avail song you’ve most likely heard if you’re unfamiliar—thanks, in part, to Tony Hawk—and it remains as throttling today as it did back in 1996. If you need a three-minute crash course on how to write a hardcore song with huge hooks that aren’t cloying, “Simple Song” is as good as it gets.
“Pinned Up” from Satiate (1992)
Avail’s debut album Satiate is one of the most overlooked in the band’s discography, but it still had fan favorites packed in there. “Pinned Up” may be the best example of Avail’s early charm, able to take a shuffling beat and spin it up into an uproarious chorus. The song darts in a handful of directions but never comes untethered from its central, sing-along thesis.
“South Bound 95” from Dixie (1994)
Picking a single song off of Dixie is near impossible, but “South Bound 95” takes the cake for being one of the shortest Avail songs, and one of the most memorable. The song wastes little time, as the band rushes through a quick hardcore blast while still putting their distinctly southern spin on things. Few bands have ever been capable of giving the classic punk drum beat an actual swing, but drummer Erik Larson was always more than capable, and “South Bound 95” benefits more than most from that shuffle.
“Order” from 4am Friday (1996)
Another track from 4am Friday, “Order” follows in the tradition of “South Bound 95” by quickly jumping into a breakneck hardcore song before opening up into a big, burly chorus. Best of all, it features what, for the purposes of this article, will be called the “Avail breakdown.” Plenty of bands were able to use half-time constructions effectively, but few were able to strike the balance between aggression and catharsis in the way Avail did. “Order” is a potent example of Avail’s power, and a shining example of hardcore’s elasticity.
“Deepwood” from Over the James (1998)
On Over the James, Avail developed a sound that was slightly more polished, but no less impactful. After all, it’s hard to imagine Dixie-era Avail throwing tambourine shakes into the verse of a song, but it works perfectly here. “Deepwood” is not only one of Avail’s best songs, it sets up what the band would grow into in the back-half of its career, which was a more eclectic and refined version of their younger selves.
“Taken” from One Wrench (2000)
When Avail moved to Fat Wreck Chords for One Wrench, many old fans were worried the band would somehow shift its sound to fit that mold. Instead, with beefed up production, the band didn’t change its approach as much as streamline it. “Taken” follows in the footsteps of “Deepwood,” showing the band’s ability to make a hardcore song sound like a joyful church hymnal.
“West Wye” from Front Porch Stories (2002)
Generally, bands’ final albums find them sounding out of gas, but that wasn’t the case for Avail. In fact, “West Wye” would grace the band with the “Ride fast, live slow” motto, one that Barry still proudly touts with his excellent solo work.
Tim Barry plays Cobra Lounge in Chicago with Gallows Bound and Roger Harvey on Thursday, October 12th. For more info and to buy tickets, click here.