All Eyes West – Like Lightning
A bolt of feverish riffs, angular rhythms, and melodies that cut as much as they soar
Chicago alternative rock three-piece All Eyes West may not be the biggest names in guitar-heavy rock music, but three albums in and they’ve proven to be one of the genre’s most consistent, and best kept secrets. Their latest album Like Lightning is every bit a bolt of feverish riffs, angular rhythms, and melodies that cut as much as they soar. It’s true that while their self-titled 2011 debut showcased a band finding their feet, they really found this thick, guitar-heavy Jawbox sound with their 2015 album Doomer. To no surprise, Doomer was produced by J. Robbins and while he is not at the helm for this release, it’s good to know they’ve maintained that wall of riffs that hit you hard from the opening cut “As I Bleed”.
The opening cut is a strong one, but it’s no downward trajectory after that. Tracks like “Simple You” and the bass-heavy “Interference” maintain the band’s focus on organic instruments. Their sound cuts its way through alternative rock’s more recognized structures before hitting the more angular post-hardcore/rock sounds that made headway in the 1990s because of bands like Drive Like Jehu, Husker Du, and of course, Jawbox. “Interference” in particular is a grand song- frenzied, urgent, yet melodic and calculated- the kind of songs that Dave Grohl once wrote- most evidently in the Foos best outing- their debut. Aurally it sounds raw and analog, like what records used to sound like when it was just musicians, their instruments, and a studio (whether it was actually recorded like that is beside the point because it SOUNDS like that). “Too Alive” is a blast; unrelenting and unforgiving with its choral refrain of “tell me how to feel” backed by this distorted grace.
There are elements of Superdrag through Like Lightning too- and not “Sucked Out” Superdrag, but their less radio-friendly material they showcased in In the Valley of the Dying Stars. Songs like the slower burning “Dream of a Nightmare” and the terrific, breezier “Chasing Light”, show the album’s depth. It’s this consistency that should really appeal to those looking for an undeniably good rock record. It may not have the dizzying heights you may find in a song like (Hum’s) “Stars”, but there are no real low points to Like Lightning either. It’s loud, it’s thick, and sounds like how any good record should.
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.