Ashrr is a relatively new band, formed only in 2018, but their credentials date back farther than that. Collectively, the Los Angeles trio have had great success from previous music projects in film and TV or producing with a large list of high-profile and legendary acts (lists that are too long to write here). Their debut album, Oscillator is a combination of synth-pop and alternative rock. The merging of styles and genres can be heard throughout the album, but overall it has very dark and contemporary new-wave tones. This can be attributed to Steven Davis’ deep, desolate vocals mixed so perfectly with an interesting range of synthesizer sounds and melodies produced for modern ears.
Oscillator is full of Bowie-esque songs, which can be heard on the album’s first single “Don’t Wait Too Long” and “Paper Glass”. However, it becomes most notable on “Here”, where Davis’ vocals are hauntingly somber, emphasized with echo and delay. It feels like a theatrical piece, as you can picture Davis standing on a dark stage, alone with a single light shining on him as he pours out all emotion with soft guitars, adding extra vibrato and solitude.
Ashrr’s second single from the album, “All Yours All Mine” has a bassline and riff that appears to be inspired by The Clash. This builds for an interesting combination with Davis’ voice and lyrics, “We’re on our worst behavior / We keep acting out our lies”, as it emphasizes the themes of humanity and its failures, heard throughout the album.
As a change of pace “Sometimes” steps up the tempo and becomes more upbeat with some funk style flair, “Artifact” does the same by edging further towards the alternative rock genre, but still keeping those new-wave synths. “Lost In You” moves from the deep and heavy, to an inspiring and romantic love song by focusing on a clear bass rhythm to push and drive the song into a positive direction. The repeated melody over the bass is bright and hopeful, which allows Davis to extend these feelings on to his vocals. Above all, the song is the most accessible on the album, due to its ability to capture the listener into its optimistic, memorable and chant-able chorus lines.
Some of the best moments from the album are when Ashrr focuses in and explores the more drawn out and melancholy, creating rich and moody atmospheres that play on the melodramatic and feel like you’re stepping into a film noir movie. “You’ve Made Up Your Mind” is an example of this as it uses new-wave synth sounds to reinforce the saddened desperate vocals, “I try and try to get through to you/ You won’t change your point of view/ You’ve already made up your mind…”
Oscillator attempts to push the confines of new-wave sounds into a more contemporary landscape and it is predominantly successful. The blending of genres and styles deepen and enrich certain songs, however, the album can sometimes feel like two separate works because of this. There is certainly a lot to enjoy from the album, many songs and moments that will bring you back and again. This makes me even more curious of what this trio can explore and experiment with next.
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.