Manic Street Preachers / Razorlight – 12.09.04 @ Wembley Arena
There’s a fine line in the music world between those who choose to grow old gracefully and those who somehow end up embarrassing themselves more and more with each encroaching decade (see the Stones, Iron Maiden). The Manic Street Preachers largely fit the initial category – but why is that seven studio albums, a greatest hits collection and a rarities compilation into their career they still remain reasonably relevant, can pack out arenas and attract one of the most obsessive fan bases you’re like to come across? Well, one of the reasons could be the fact that with each album they musically reinvent themselves, – from the raucous, inflammatory punk of Generation Terrorists, the nihilistic, uncomfortably honest masterpiece The Holy Bible to the polished Spector-ish production exhibited on Everything Must Go and the lush soundscapes more akin to the likes of New Order and Goldfrapp that swamp new LP Lifeblood, the Manics never fail to surprise their loyal followers.
I think it’s fair to say, Razorlight are swallowed up by the enormity of the charmless arena. Coming across more as a student band in the shadow of the Manics, tracks such as “Don’t Go Back To Dalston” and “Rip It Up” which usually sound frantic and urgent come across as tired and turgid and it’s only tracks such as “Stumble & Fall” and the irrepressible “Golden Touch” that give them a degree of redemption. With two dates booked at London’s Ally Pally, playing to over 22,000, it remains to be seen whether or not Razorlight can make the complete transition from playing the sweatboxes of East London they were used to a year ago, to the enormodromes where they looked so uncomfortable tonight.
The Manics are essentially doing two jobs tonight; one is to promote the reissued, repackaged tenth anniversary edition of The Holy Bible, the other is to promote the brand new Lifeblood album, which the band have coincidentally described as being “The Holy Bible for 35 year olds.” Rather aptly tracks lifted from both of these go down equally well, from the expansive, elegiac melodies of tracks such as “Solitude Sometimes Is” and “I Live To Fall Asleep” to the jagged, acerbic punkoids, namely “Yes” and “Faster.”
Although they may have toned themselves down in recent years in terms of their outspokenness, the band (featuring a second guitarist for the first time since iconic original member Richey Edwards’ disappearance) still pogo and scissor-kick their way around the stage as if they were twenty again and just necked a shedload of amphetamines. Tracks such as “You Stole The Sun From My Heart” and “Motown Junk” still sound mighty and majestic, the extra guitarist giving them extra beef, whilst a fully-plugged in version of “This Is Yesterday” (as opposed to the usual live acoustic rendition) is both poignant and beguiling.
As the closing fanfare of “Motorcycle Emptiness” and “A Design For Life” rings out, steam rising from the mosh pit, the Blackwood trio show that there’s a great deal of life in them yet, and once again prove their critics who have been writing them off wrong; the Manic Street Preachers are far from being dead and buried.
Crossed Keys – Saviors
Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds
Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.
Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.
For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.
Pine – Pine
Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia
Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.
Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.
The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.
For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.