Decemberunderground is the polarizing album AFI fans will either love or love to hate. It is the album where the band will find out it’s impossible to keep fans old and new satisfied. It is also the record that will make AFI huge (for a primetime-shy mascara wearing goth-punk quartet anyway). Whether they’re aware of it or not is debatable, but this is the sound of a band entering the next level. And for listeners of discerning tastes, that sound is like when your cat is coughing up a whopper of a hairball, or when the local high school band played Europe’s “Final Countdown” at your brother’s graduation. But for young teenagers in bondage pants and devastatingly un-funny Happy Bunny t-shirts, that sound is irresistible. This might as well be Jesus covering God’s greatest hits, because to misunderstood high school freshmen, this is divine. It is a phenomenon that I will never understand, for I am a mere mortal. Besides, at 20, I am much too old.
The album starts off the way any Sisters of Mercy worshipping band would want it to: with a creepy prelude. In “Prelude 12/21,” singer Davey Havok (if that even is his real name…) half sings, half speaks about being “laid to sleep” to over a stumbling industrial beat and choral “whoa-ohs.” Spine-chilling. But then the haunted house theme music unexpectedly gives way to one of the year’s most gripping, badass, heavy songs. Second track “Kill Caustic” is classic AFI- Havok’s manic screams mingle with an excellent metal guitar riff, calling to mind a more sophisticated and pissed-off “Total Immortal.” Radio hit “Miss Murder” shifts the focus to the band’s pop sensibilities, and it’s sing-songy good. Three tracks in, AFI has you firmly gripped by the throat.
Then they slowly relinquish control and lose the listener’s attention with four whimpering minutes of organ-laced boring. The offending pop ballad, “The Interview,” probably made the label very happy, but where are the cojones? This is a question that follows AFI throughout the rest of the disc, from one dark pop anthem to the next. “Love Like Winter” then sets a precedent for most of the tracks that follow by relying too heavily on Havok’s reedy singing voice and not enough on the band’s assets: powerful, inventive guitar riffs, well-constructed choruses, aggressive drumming and loud, screaming vocals. “Affliction” and “Endlessly, She Said” are more centered on these strengths, but AFI too often forget what they do best.
Simply, Decemberunderground proves that AFI is a mediocre pop rock band and a fabulous punk/hardcore band. With the band in the middle of a troubling existential crisis, they have simultaneously accomplished a career highlight and established a new genre: medio-core.
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.
Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”
A glorious sound of a time gone by
Southern California’s Gameface were always a band that seemed perfect just below the cusp. Their brand of pop-tinged punk was somewhere in between the melancholy driven emo of the early 1990s to what would become of radio-friendly punk bands evolving from the Jimmy Eat Worlds of the… world.
I loved this band. It was songs like “My Star” and “When You’ve Had Enough” that captured my attention. They didn’t fit in with the punk explosion of the mid-90s and had more melodic chops than those that remained in the underground with bands like Quicksand and Texas is the Reason (the latter being the most musically similar).
To this day, I count their track “How Far Is Goodbye?” as one I can listen to on any given day and still feel the same way about it as I did years ago. It’s a glorious sound of a time gone by, and Jeff Caudill, who has been the backbone of their songwriting since the beginning, has still got the chops his ilk can only dream of. There’s a tinge of melancholy that conjures up a certain sadness, a scene in a movie where the protagonist is making their exit into the distance as the scene closes. Something about the song, the sentiment, and the lyrics that always reminds of driving away while looking at the rear view mirror.
Five years ago Gameface released a new album, Now Is What Matters, an album that perfectly encapsulated their ability to write with emotion, melody, and magnetism that only a select few seem to possess. I interviewed frontman Jeff Caudill before the album came out to chat about the band, an interview I think still holds up. Caudill has been busy since then with a lot of solo material, while the band themselves have been releasing music sporadically (mostly singles) since 2014.
While their catalog is deep, there’s one song I keep coming back to, and that’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”. Originally released on the split 10″ vinyl with Errortype: 11 in 2000, the song received an update in 2018, which you can hear below.
Gameface photo from Gameface facebook page.