Lately, the countless number of CDs that are delivered day after day to my door end up piling up sky high next to my desk. Some of the lucky ones are best served as a welcoming mat for my morning and nightly cups of coffee. You really need something to keep you up when the music brings you down. About a month ago, the “buzz” surrounding Armor For Sleep’s sophomore album, What to Do When You Are Dead, started ringing out. It’s the make it or break it album and I love to listen for the progression, or mostly lack thereof.
I was initially impressed by Armor For Sleep’s debut album, Dream to Make Believe, it was an album that showed promise. They’ve changed the way someone can look at a band’s second full-length release with What to Do When You Are Dead. This album, which borders near conceptual is written from the perception or point of view of someone who has traversed over into the afterlife. It’s a journey and passage of life and death. Something we all must face, but find it hard to talk about and realize.
The music is reminiscent of a dark, cinematic feature and the album is in fact admirably structured that way. The full experience of listening to this album is closely related to that of watching a film with all its peaks and valleys throughout. The album begins with an actual death, an entering to heaven and being alone before returning home and finally taking your steps as a ghost. Don’t let the conceptual idea of the album fool you though. While the full experience of the album is best suited to listen to in sequence, each song can surprisingly stand alone. That is how well executed these songs are. Now the concept is definitely intriguing but it wouldn’t be able to stand up without the music and Armor For Sleep do not disappoint. They have implemented the same amount of thought and expression into the music as they did with the concept. The music on this album is a clear progression from their debut album. I can best describe it and relate it to as the way label mates; The Snake The Cross The Crown progressed from their first EP to their LP.
What to Do When You Are Dead sees a change in the vocals as the range is much more vast and extensive. The guitars also provide their own range as they are featured much more enthusiastically with shuffling between high points and low points that help budge the delicate structure of the album along. Another aspect that is truly neat to follow is how the lyrics flow so well with the music. You get the sense that there was so much time put into matching the lyrics with the guitar and bass lines because it all fits so well. As much as they have progressed on this release, they still manage to keep things somewhat catchy and I think that’s the trick. Often times, concept albums can offer too much experimental material that one tends to lose focus. Rather than deem this album experimental, the right thing to do would be to classify it as the result of what happens when a band pours thought, vitality and the will to do things differently into a release, and then to have execution meet expectations.
(Equal Vision 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.
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.