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Bon Iver: The Man with the Impressive Falsetto

A personal reflection on the music of Bon Iver

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It is the most exciting thing in the world when one of your favorite artists releases new music. It is also a great excuse to look back through all your favorite tracks and reminisce what made you fall in love with them in the first place. It all started when Justin Vernon decided most aspects in his life were turning to shit and he needed to escape. He packed up some basic belongings and recording equipment and set to his father’s cabin in the woods for three months. Following this is a great example of why everything happens for a reason. Because of these troubling turn of events for Vernon, For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) was created, and the music world was brought a completely new genre, Bon Iver. The authenticity of this artist’s music shows that he has created an entirely new genre for himself. There is nothing exactly like him, no two songs follow the same strict path, yet every song stays unapologetically him.

For Emma, Forever Ago is one of the best albums of recent time. I have no evidence supporting this claim, except for the fact that it is my opinion so it must be true.

You can feel the emotion poured into every single word, every single strum, every single beat. Everything on that album is there for a reason and there to make you feel something. It is probably his simplest of music, but it clearly proves that less is more. A chorus of Vernon’s voice fills your ears, and all your emotions come running to the front. Besides the point of what we feel as listeners, it is Vernon’s emotions that are most important in this album and it is an incredible privilege to share what he has produced.

Following from the impressive first album, Bon Iver retained the standard just as high with his second release. The self-titled album delivers a mesmerizing performance, keeping the same tone as the first album, an echoing voice, and emotion-filled lyrics, but with excelled mysticism. I believe this album set us up for what was to come down the line; his lauded 22, A Million (2016), we just didn’t know it yet. There are hints of different electronics and different paces, which make perfect sense after hearing all he has produced, but at that moment, I don’t think we knew what this album really set us up for.

Blood Bank (2009) represents the scariness and nervousness of love, and this song is a prime example of feeling through music. As told to Bustle, “I think that that secret [in the chorus] is the answer to all those questions. Why is this sacred and why does this feel larger than myself and larger than what I can even put into words … I think it’s the connection that we have to each other.

We can consider Vernon as a spokesperson for/of our generation. He speaks truth and feeling and makes countless connections in his music.

To this point, Bon Iver followed a similar musical line of style. We were comfortable with what we knew Vernon could produce… and then five years later, 22, A Million came out and my initial response was… shock. It was a surprise how different this album sounded to all of his music up to this point. Yet he seemed to keep the integrity of Bon Iver intact. This was the point of evolution. This was the changing wave that proved just how amazingly creative this man could be. I really didn’t understand the album’s direction when I first listened to it. I was almost a little disappointed, but when you get past the initial feeling of ‘why didn’t he just bring out something like his first album’, and you really listen to each individual song, you grasp the enormity and talent at hand. There is more commotion, more electronic additions, processed voices, and the less than traditional structures in the songs. It is why I appreciate this album so much. It follows no rules, it has a unique sound and one song can take multiple directions within itself. Who knew electronic folk could work so well?

This trip down memory lane was prompted by the release of the two new singles “U (Man Like)” and “Hey, Ma”. Two utterly fantastic songs. A marvelous combination of early and current Bon Iver. “U (Man Like)” oozes original Bon Iver with piano and acoustics, but hints a modern twist. Whether or not it was intended, the song has a sense of optimism. It is light, but without skimping on genius.

It is impressive to release two new singles at the same time and for them to be so varied, yet work together. “Hey, Ma” leans towards the modern side of Vernon. It would fantastic to hear this song in an acoustic setting, stripped back with just Justin and his guitar. This song shows how you can use electronic additions to a song to compliment, without overdoing it.

Bon Iver has never lost the integrity of his work. The music has always stayed true, no matter what stage it was in. Vernon has created fragile yet strong music at the same time. Pitchfork stated; “This project began with a single person, but throughout the last 11 years, the identity of Bon Iver has bloomed and can only be defined by the faces in the ever growing family we are.”

Bon Iver is ever evolving, and his outlook on music and life is something worth following. Every album/release grows without losing that integrity, regardless of how diverse it is, and there is always excitement for what will be released next. He is Bon Iver, the man with the impressive falsetto.

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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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