Apocrypha is a noun and means “writings of questionable authenticity.” All dictionary meanings aside, there is no question of the authenticity of Andrew Bird’s talent. Armchair Apocrypha is the classically trained violinist’s newest release and showcases his penchant for perfectly placed string plucking in the midst of beautifully written songs. While this ambitious album may be a bit boring in spots to some who are accustomed to loud, hard and fast rock n’ roll, the deeply talented Bird has made an album of dreamy folk-pop, full of excellent songwriting and brilliant orchestrations. (All while managing to not fall into arty pretentiousness.) Chicago-born Andrew Bird has had a fairly impressive career thus far, as he’s made some great music and worked with notable artists including Ani DiFranco and My Morning Jacket. Bird released Weather Systems in 2003 and The Mysterious Production of Eggs(Righteous Babe) in 2005, with both receiving much acclaim. Bird has also been an integral member of the band Bowl of Fire, and has performed with the Squirrel Nut Zippers; he even finds time to teach music at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chi-town.
Armchair Apocrypha is full of velvety hooks and swooning lines, and “Fiery Crash” starts the album off just right, with a peppy guitar and a little taste of Bird’s harmonies and poignant lyrics. This track proves that Bird can make bliss out of something as dull as an airport: “turnstiles on mezzanine // jet ways and Dramamine fiends // and x-ray machines // you were hurling through space // g-forces twisting your face.”
“Imitosis” is Bird’s Brazilian-style romp and showcases his influences of different musical styles. “Plasticities” is wistful and eclectic, followed up by the catchiness of “Heretics.” “Dark Matter” is the favorite here, with playful lyrics: “when I was just a little boy // I threw away all of my action toys // while I became obsessed with Operation…” “Simple X” is a great track, mixing eerie background whistles over a cool snare beat. “Cataracts” also shows off Bird’s more-than-adequate songwriting abilities, and additional appropriately-timed whistling is thrown in for good measure: “when our mouths are filled with uninvited tongues of others // and the strays are pining for their unrequited mothers // milk that spoils is promptly spat // light will fill our eyes like cats.”
“Scythian Empires” (featured recently on NPR) is the crowning track of the album, and with minimal lyrics manages to be sophisticated; the song is made complete by violin plucking and birds chirping. (Bird is known for playing his violin sideways, like a guitar.) The hidden track “Yawny and the Apocalypse” is well worth the cost of Armchair Apocrypha. If you are a fan of Andrew Bird’s earlier works, you will not be disappointed with this ambitious album. And if you’re not a fan, well, this album is confirmation that you should be.
(Fat Possum Records)
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.