On the first track of Cultural Norms, Blanket Music does its best to strike fear into the hearts of music reviewers everywhere. In the bizarre story, the band sentences a critical naysayer to death “at the hands of our mild mannered bass player.” Cheeky lines like this, in addition to their vocal style, have earned this band many (many) comparisons to Belle and Sebastian; early Belle and Sebastian, when it was still about quaint stories and catchy folk pop. The resemblance really is uncanny, though. At times it sounds as though they have stolen Stuart Murdoch and forced him to sing on this album. Thankfully they don’t abuse this resemblance. There are no awkward schoolgirl lesbians on this album and they do not attempt at any point to assume Scottish accents.
One also has to keep in mind Blanket Music’s penchant for genre bending. Each album marks a large jump in style for the band, so the musical similarities to Belle and Sebastian are actually quite new to the mix. Even within the album, the band jumps around. Touches of folk-pop, jazz, and lounge music all pop up with a good bit of regularity and a country element is also brought in for the lamenting, unromanticized tale of a modern soldier in “Soldier’s Story.”
As the title suggests, the album deals with the norms of our country and our culture, with more than a touch of wit and irony. As a concept album, Cultural Norms works quite well. The problem with most concept albums is that they are far too grand in scale. The band will have some grandiose, overarching storyline in mind, but it falls flat when put into practice. Either the music suffers for the sake of the story (like parts of The Who’s Tommy), or the other way around (Pedro the Lion’s Winners Never Quit). Blanket Music instead works around a simple topic. It is more likely that they simply found themselves with a collection of songs that all fit within the same subject, rather than forcing themselves to write in a particular frame. This is reflected in the smooth, unforced nature of the songs. Each song can stand easily on its own, telling a self contained story or ruminating on cultural quirks.
We hear from a general manager in “Keep the Prices Down,” a modern-thinking couple contemplating marriage in “Just Us,” and even a household cat (used as more of a metaphor for America, really) in “Cats Corps,” among other characters. The band also turns their lens back on themselves with “Press Conference,” asking the listening public if they would still enjoy their music without an interesting message or story. The music is enjoyable on its own, but the wit of lead singer Chad Crouch’s lyrics adds so much more to the band. Without such interesting subjects, Blanket Music could run the risk of coming off as bad twee pop. But fear not, Crouch knows what he is doing, and on top of that, he’s good at it.
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.