Funniest thing happened when I slipped on First Light’s Freeze, the new album by Castanets- as I pressed play, the wind picked up a little bit. At first I didn’t notice, but as I kept walking, cold, dreary, vacant track after track passing by, the temperature actually dropped. By the time I was nearing the album’s end, the sunny Indiana day in which I had begun to listen to the CD had been replaced by vacuous arctic tundra. It snowed so hard every building was covered and by the time I got to “Reflecting in the Angles,” the album’s last song, I was left, alone, dying on a sheet of ice. And let me tell you, if you are EVER planning on enduring a slow, frostbitten death, I cannot recommend a more perfect soundtrack than First Light’s Freeze. Do not be fooled by the sticker on the album’s front that boasts an appearance from labelmate Sufjan Stevens, as this album could not be farther away from the energetic, usually chipper pop associated with Stevens. This is austere, it is sparse, and it is uninviting.
So what does it sound like? A singer/songwriter trapped in a frozen cabin all winter without outside contact, his only sources of sanity coming from a tape recorder, a drum machine, and a microphone. If Iron & Wine had been berated by all his friends and moved to Alaskato seek refuge. Elliott Smith’s winter vacation. On “Into the Night,” the album’s first substantial track (there are 5 pleasant mood-setting instrumentals among the other songs) songwriter and lead sing Raymond Raposa sings: “Let’s take a walk dear, into the murderous night.” It does not get any brighter from this point. “Good Friend, Yr Hunger” is a beautiful banjo led number, and is the closest the group gets to a conventional song, but lyrics such as, “friend I cannot befriend you true / in seeking out my light in you” show a solitude that betray the fleshed out arrangement.
The most remarkable song on the album, though, is the title track, which begins with carefully picked guitar and glockenspiel, which after a period of silence give way to Raposa’s hardened voice and the sound of water dripping, of ice melting, of some warmth, but the songs final line “The night is long / Come light,” leads to a vacant drum machine beat, a sign there will be no conclusion, and only after this do we find ourselves back with the guitar line that we began with, leaving our protagonist struggling through the night, no closer to day than when we met him. There is promise of a brighter period in the driving (well, for this album, at least) “No Voice was Raised,” which has Raposa’s voice buttressed by a delayed electric guitar and beautiful female vocal backing. Near its conclusion, the song gives way to a wall of Sonic Youth-esque noise, the least expected turn on the album, and one that clashes with the songs refrain, “no voice was raised / no song was sung.”
The album’s isolation (“I wanna get high on something / go dancing with someone,” are the most poignant lines from “Dancing with Someone (Privilege of Everything)”) is both its highest spectacle and its biggest flaw. There is little relief from the albums frigid tone, making the album much better as one large expression of a feeling than as a collection of individual tracks. However, if you’re the kind of person who spends all summer indoors with the blinds drawn, loathing every moment until the temperature drops, First Light’s Freeze could be the soundtrack to your next ice fishing or snow shoeing adventure.
(Asthmatic Kitty Records)
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.