“Punk was originally about creating new, important, energetic music that would hopefully threaten the status quo and the stupidity of the 1970s,” asserts Jello Biafra, and in a short amount time it seemed if the stupidity of disco and glam rock were given a solid boot up the keister by what perhaps is defined as “punk’s most recognizable period.” Recognizable because the immediate mention of the word and the majority would allude to what it embodied in the late 70’s – pins, Mohawks, leather jackets and a crusty old stick-it-to-the-man middle finger – and yet many question the validity of the fashion statements as subversive, but one may forget that during that time, wearing safety pins was almost on par with of a nunnery full of whores (or a brothel full of nuns), and it was what got attention to the music if the music itself did not do so. In the immediate proceeding years, the very cornerstones of this counterculture would form; in New York rose The Ramones while the United Kingdom ignited the fury of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Buzzcocks. It was a short period of immediate glory, but what 1977 brought to the world would ring invariably in many shapes and forms – buoyed by what seems to be an undying cause for personal expression and a very human passion to question what is put before us.
Through the years that followed, the subculture formed many offshoots and evolved in countless ways, but the one product of 1977 that perhaps best represents “punk” in its most effective form, would be the birth of hardcore in 1980s – The Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, The Minutemen, Minor Threat and of course Bad Religion. It is from these artists listeners finally sat up and took notice that punk was more than just saying “fuck you,” it was as Greg Graffin summarizes amongst several things, “a movement that serves to refute social attitudes that have been perpetuated through wilful ignorance of human nature.” And the ignorance of human nature was not limited to the suburbs of Los Angeles. But as the new decade rolled around, many of what youth began to see – hostage crises, assassinations, riots, the birth of MTV, and the full fledged burgeoning of iconic corporations – pushed them in one direction or the other. And from these locales, Bad Religion grew into perhaps the most prominent of these groups, spearheading a revolution from the suburbs that spanned the globe. Armed with sweltering melodies, a piercing sense of urgency and a vault of vocabulary, they conquered apathy, suffering, ignorance, greed, hate, faith and the consumption of the human spirit.
Through their approach they were effective with their message; never one to rely on finding singular, common constructs, they challenged their own sound and resisted the temptation to become indifferent – even when they had found their scope of influence. During this period of musical and influential prosperity, one for all intents and purposes we shall label as 1988-1992, their work was boundless, and in essence, untouchable amongst those who shared the same billing. Speaking personally, the albums released during this period, the bulk of Epitaph’s reissues, were by far the most appealing – at least for someone who grew up far from the immediate range of their music (at least for the majority of their broadcast). In this, I found a certain likeness to their work; that it was not merely discourse in the ills of American society, but the ills of the world, and more importantly, the society in which occurred directly outside my window. While my interest in American life sparked very early on, it was during my early teen years that I began realizing the tribulations of the country I called “home” – Indonesia was (and still is) rife with poverty, corruption, ignorance and greed of the highest level that succeeded in creating a false layer of security, hiding a bubbling self-destruction that, unfortunately, has since burst into a pseudo-democratic mess where few take responsibility, and even fewer know how to. Whether or not they aimed globally, Bad Religion spoke of these evils and their words quantified and summarized the moral extinctions to the greatest effect.
1988’s Suffer is widely regarded as one of the finest albums of its kind, and it first displayed Bad Religion’s ability to so efficiently, and meaningfully amplify conscious words. From there, they went on to release No Control, which still exhibits the single greatest song written in all mankind (at least in my humble opinion). “I Want to Conquer the World” will forever be the psalm for a soul desiring change and world revolution – never has two minutes and seventeen seconds been so precise in detailing the follies and hypocrisies of the so-called erudite community and preachers of good speak; fundamentally disclaiming that no human is infallible and/or capable of such wondrous feats, no matter how burning the desire. The follow-up to No Control is perhaps their greatest collection; although that debate would run eternal, Against the Grain exhibits songwriting and deliberation seasoned over two fantastic albums and a wealth of experience gained. Much of their 1995 All Ages compilation was built around a great deal of material from Against the Grain – a sign possibly that the band is best represented by these outings. [On (another) personal anecdote, I remember vividly how during junior high, my music class was asked to each bring in a song that they would like to play for the class – everyone else strode mightily with their collection of trivial music while I played “Modern Man.” I received disconcerting looks (a mixture of horror and confusion) while my teacher questioned my morality and positive responsibility to the classroom environment. Needless to say, the song speaks volumes in documenting how population Earth has so erred in an amazingly brief period of time.] Generator is the last of this period; released in 1992, some have argued its less than powerful nature – and yes, in contrast to its predecessors perhaps that contention holds value. Nonetheless, while it is one of the weaker releases, just barely better than both Stranger than Fiction and No Substance, it still exhibits some fine work – most notably the title track. It was also their last before their departure for Sony, another endless and seemingly futile argument that they somehow couldn’t be as effective surrounded by richer lining.
So now with Epitaph’s decision to reissue five of some of the most important records ever released, where do they really stand in regards to value? For one, the five – the retooled How Could Hell be any Worse? (an amalgam of their early documentation, 80-85, as well as added EP tracks), Suffer, No Control, Against the Grain, and Generator – have all been digitally remastered and reverberate with greater intensity. Cynics will argue the difference is minute, but for those who own the original recordings, the difference is palpable. The guitars discharge even more so commandingly, while the low-end and percussion work have been given added boost. The alterations are clear to anyone who was to play any song of the old recording with the newly remastered one in sequence; take “Modern Man” as an example – the chilling prophetic atmosphere of the 1990 edition is infinitesimal compared to its 2004 version; stunning. (Artwork has been updated as well, but that facet of these recordings is far less important).
Apparently there is debate on the usefulness of these reissues – but I for one cannot understand why this has become an issue. Do we forget at which stage of the evolution we seem so entrenched in? The filth of merchandising, commercialization, branding, manufacturing; this is what has become of 1977’s revolution that grew to immense power in the proceeding decade. Artists clamoring for music video rotation, clothing sponsorship, and magazine cover appearances. Even more alarming, those who are in a position to influence a great number of able bodied kids who seek direction, purpose and understanding are swayed to this useless and pointless brokerage of apathy. I recently came across an article on an influential website that has become a beacon for this meaningless practice, where the proprietor affirms that he is “not punk enough” but he definitely “does not care.” Indeed, discussing what is and what is not “punk” is just as futile, but this apathetic approach to what was the very antithesis for apathy is just plain delusional. And so perhaps these re-releases serves the purpose to (re)educate those who seemingly have distorted their view on what is and what is not. That alone justifies any cause Epitaph may have to re-release these records, and they couldn’t have picked a better selection.
There is no definitive punk manifesto; and while Graffin himself may have come closest in defining the relevance and importance of what it is, there can never be one true understanding. He does however, point to one important factor – that those who have never been challenged by life itself have no reason to doubt. And the existence of these records does endless good to illustrate situations for those unexposed to the many injustices that have become the constitutions of daily living. Humanity is bred imperfect, and we are all of the same mold; but there is much that can be induced from these albums – three of which will eternally remain essential – most importantly, that we should forever seek to find resolution for life’s answerless question.
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.