I remember back when I was in high school, and I heard “Good” for the first time on the radio. The soaring chorus, the driving guitars; I was hooked. A while after that, “Desperately Wanting” graced the airwaves; and I was doubly hooked. Now, cue “A Lifetime,” the first single from Better Than Ezra’s latest record Before The Robots, and I’m caught; hook, line, and sinker.
The boys of Better Than Ezra have been making fantastic music for a long, long time now. If the new single “A Lifetime” sounds somewhat familiar; that’s because it is. It was first released on their 2001 album Closer; and has become a staple sing-along at almost every BTE concert. Their old label folded soon after Closer hit the shelves, so the band decided to re-do the tune for Robots: finally giving it a well-deserved chance to be heard by the masses. Before The Robots is also home to another fan favorite BTE tune: “Hollow.” This song has been kicking around fan circles in some form or another for God knows how long—it’s just taken this long for it to find a suitable album for release. “Hollow” is an amazing bit of storytelling that follows the lives and developments of a few high school friends as they make decisions, and mistakes, that will affect and change the course of their lives. It’s a great tune, and makes for a nice little rock-out before the two album closing ballads.
As far as style goes, Before The Robots finds lead singer-songwriter Kevin Griffin dipping into all the lessons they learned on every album they’ve released. It has the eclectic ness of Closer, the rock of Friction, Baby, the experimentation of Deluxe, and the guts of How Does Your Garden Grow? This is the album Better Than Ezra has always wanted to make. It’s accessible enough to hit a homerun on the charts, but still quirky enough to suit even the most stalwart of BTE fans. Highlights include the new rendition of “A Lifetime,” the two album closing tracks “Our Finest Year,” and “Breathless,” the aforementioned “Hollow,” the quasi-social commentary “American Dream,” and, most notably, the stunningly gorgeous “Our Last Night.” The amazing “Our Last Night” just goes to show that Griffin still has the songwriting chops that put him on the map way back when “Good” hit the airwaves for the first time. It’s just a gorgeous song.
Before The Robots is a return to form for a band that never really lost it’s way. Maybe with this record, Better Than Ezra will, like their song “A Lifetime,” finally get the recognition they so desperately deserve. Go buy this. Now.
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.