What is the great American sound? It is a question posed countless of times, over decades, across genres- from the birth of jazz, to the onset of rhythm and blues, from the gospel of roots to the opening strums of “Blinded by the Light”- we have sought to find the defining artist, album, song that is the aural equivalent such lofty expectations. When it comes to American heartland rock n’ roll, you’d have to start with and travel onwards from Seger, Petty, Springsteen, and Mellencamp. The Rushmore of heartland rock n’ roll influenced a wide variety of artists. Some sought to continue the blue collar, country-tinged traditional sounds of the genre, some that followed injected other styles to breathe new life into a genre that found itself pushed to the side during rock’s more hedonistic, and then grungier, times. In contemporary terms, The Gaslight Anthem became a bastion for a new generation of heartland rock n’ rollers. Still entrenched in country-folk roots, they infused punk’s urgency into the palette and became a musical albatross, so much so that Springsteen would join THEM on stage (at Glastonbury no less) to sing Gaslight songs.
While the Gaslight Anthem’s time has seemingly been put on the back burner, there are a few artists who ply their trade in similar fashion looking to fill that space. Atlanta, Georgia rock n’ roll act Aree and the Pure Heart are not just space fillers
The sax-tinged tones of “Gasoline Heart” makes no bones of where its musical influences lie; a frantic energy that is best described as Springsteen and The Gaslight Anthem on stage together at your city’s most rock n’ roll bar. “Crashing Into The Sun” is a percussion driven Mellencamp anthem that sits its heartfelt chorus next to hopeful escapism, while “Black Cats” is a little bit “Human Wheels”, but also a lot of Aree and his bluesy “ooo ooohs”.
Every album, at least every great one, has its “Jungleland”. A companion song to a great hit that in itself, is a wonder of a tune. It gives the album a contrasting resonance that showcases the artist’s ability to craft music a little outside of their regular sphere. Perhaps it is incredibly premature to compare the tracks on here to “Jungleland”, but if you had to pick one above the rest that subverts some of the album’s tendencies without forsaking what Aree and the Pure Heart is all about, it’ll have to be the beautifully crafted aching of “The Feeling I Get”. Piano and heart all splattered across its chest, Aree lets his lovelorn voice and introspective storytelling take its place in the spotlight. Its minimalist backdrop is near perfect, and at just over 4 minutes, is your reminder that at the very heart of Never Gonna Die, is Aree’s ability to craft stories. Some are heartbroken, some are full of hope. Some paint with raucous melodies and rock n’ roll vistas, and some paint with the quiet forlorn of the empty night.
We may never find out exactly what that great American sound is. Or perhaps, we are lucky that there is so much more than one- and that an amalgamation of these things creates the next best thing. Never Gonna Die is grand, it is both classic and distinctly now; a marriage of beautiful songwriting, spirit and a poet’s disposition. It’s not quite The ‘59 Sound yet or Born to Run, and maybe Aree and the Pure Heart won’t shake off comparisons to either, but if the great American sound is all of these things, then we can never have too much of it.
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.