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Baby Strange – The Make-Out Sessions EP

Baby Strange is at their 1993. And The Make-Out Sessions is compact in its distilling of rock n’ roll virtues without giving away too much of what the band has to offer.

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There was a time when brothers Noel and Liam actually spent their time crafting absorbing rock n’ roll instead of being the poster boys for insipid squabbling. Sure enough, after all their bickering and absurd claims of greatness, their music has ultimately suffered from their less than favorable approach to public relations. Now it seems the only thing worthy of note is Liam’s unibrow and how shamelessly they lampoon their own music. Oasis can never say they aren’t supporters of recycling, but in 1993 they were something of a revelation. On the edge of making headlines (the good kind) with opening slots for the likes of BMX Bandits and Saint Etienne, they displayed the sort of tetchy excitement rock n’ roll was made for. The next year, Creation released Definitely Maybe and their brows were on the way.

Baby Strange is at their 1993. And The Make-Out Sessions is compact in its distilling of rock n’ roll virtues without giving away too much of what the band has to offer. Chief songwriter Eric Deneen’s voice is brewed from the monotone trailing made famous by likes of Jagger. And as he crawls through the chorus of “If I Didn’t Know Better” with his shouts of “c’mon!” one knows this man is bred for this sort of thing. The disjointed bassline that weaves behind “Why Didn’t You Fall?” is inescapable, seemingly grasping at Deneen’s sneering howl while navigating in-and-out of melody. It sparks the smoky atmospheres and musical disenchantment that goes hand in hand with the genre. The scissor precision of “Hotel Motel” seems to lean more to the recent wave of rock revivalism but amongst the rest of the tracks more ‘90s oriented material, it bubbles over with spunk; an interesting contrast of sophistication and flair.

This EP isn’t consistent, but it shouldn’t be; it teeters on being dangerous while remaining lithe. There are fantastic instances of songwriting and Deneen is razor sharp in his swaggering delivery. Perhaps the very best it could have done was to inject the listener with the allure of possibility, the feeling of “I most probably want to listen to more” and that’s all a rock n’ roll band needs.

(self-released)

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Crossed Keys – Saviors

Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds

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Crossed Keys Saviors

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.

(Hellminded Records)

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Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”

A glorious sound of a time gone by

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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.

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