Unbeknown to the general public (or at least outside of Latin America and pockets of “in-the know” folks here and there), Stephen Malkmus and Thom Yorke’s Latin American counterparts have been on the front line of Mexico’s rock movement since 1992. As if they were long separated distant cousins, the members of Café Tacuba are an undeniable presence in rock music south of the U.S. border. Since their debut album more than a decade ago, this quartet of artistically restless musicians have consistently raised their musical capacity to a height which earned their 1999 album Reves/Yosoy a Latin Grammy nod for “Best Rock Album”.
Comparisons to their North American brethren are of no outlandish tales either, but while they certainly owe a little to Pavement’s unbalanced approach and Pablo Honey era Radiohead melodies, Café Tacuba inject an incredible amount of individual ingenuity and a distinctly cultured flavor that one will only find in areas of unsanitary water and cheap tequila. This perhaps, is what gives them their elaborate mystic appeal; a perspective of rock music seen outside of the genre’s roots and archetypical perceptions. Deeply entrenched in their own musical pedigree, these four students of design all have a heavy hand in how Cuatro Caminos develops. “Cero y Uno” is a deceptive opener; drenched in sweeping riffs and vocals that swirl in and out of melody, it lures the listener into a false sense of more pliable offerings. And effectively so, because the track’s approachable arrangements are decisively cut to shreds with the following “Eo”. A ruckus romp into more frantic territory; a sound brought to America’s suburbs by the likes of the Voodoo Glow Skulls.
Their undefined dynamic is once again challenged by “Mediodia”. A far more subdued pondering that meanders into soft-spoken melancholy backed by clanging cymbals and kinks of instrumental chiming. Once again, it quickly swings, this time to the album’s most outstanding moment. In the ska tinged discordance of “Que Pasara”, frontman Elfego Buendia’s strained vocals quiver with the same effectiveness as Yorke’s would on the stages of Glastonbury. With a bassline so engaging and percussions that scissor with precision, Café Tacuba more than flexes their musical intellect as iconoclasts of their heritage. Their approach to deconstructing South American based rhythms isn’t entirely destructive either. In “Camino y Vereda”, the sambaesque beat that slithers in the background may appear lost in the crowds of rock guitars and echoing vocals but without it, the song would ultimately crumble.
Deep and truly engaging, the album only briefly succumbs to experimental pitfalls. The bizarre grouping of light merengue with enormously aloof disco beats that slipped its way into the early 80’s makes for one odd partnership; resulting in “Puntos Cardinales” distinctly Sonny Crockett feel. Then in “Desperte”, they embark on stripped-down measures that sneak and crawl its way around lo-fi island sounds and Buendia’s labored diction but results in a slightly plodding, directionless pace.
With only momentary misdirection, Café Tacuba’s latest is as remarkable as the vast ground covered in the album’s fourteen tracks. Traveling around a globe’s worth of musical attributes while humbly remaining dedicated to their craft, they cut through an immense amount of material with great serration. It is a wonder how so few outside selected circles are aware of this quartet; hopefully Cuatro Caminos will serve notice to the masses that Mexico’s most avant-garde rock musicians have been producing fine work for many years.
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.