Crowded House evokes many fond memories for me, such as the first date with my then future wife, which included seeing their second Los Angeles performance at the Palace in 1987. I have long thought that they were one of the ten best bands post New Wave era; and that Neil Finn is one of the greatest singer/songwriters to ever grace a stage or recording studio. In their decade together as a band, they produced four remarkable albums that have played countless times on my turntable and CD player.
Sometimes good things are born out of tragic events. As a drummer who admired Paul Hester’s creative work, I was saddened and pissed off when I heard he had taken his own life in March of 2005. Though the band suffered the loss of his integral contributions, I am pleased that Nick Seymour and Finn decided to record a new album and are currently performing tour dates in Europe, Australia and North America.
Time On Earth begins with the melodic if not somber “Nobody Wants To,” a song about depression, the sadness of loss and the danger of ignoring the personal feelings that follow. Though the arrangement sounds a bit stark, it is immediately evident that Seymour’s thoughtful bass work and backing vocals are made tailor made for Finn’s darkly adult power pop. “She Called Up” offers a happy melody in spite of the fact that the lyrics are about receiving dreadful news. The song has an accessible Split Enz influence mixed with the satirical qualities that permeated Crowded House’s Woodface album. After hearing “Say That Again” a few times, I began to appreciate the lyrical quality and subtle beauty of the melody. As welcome as Seymour’s contributions are on this song, it is conversely obvious that the loss of Hester’s powerful drumming has left a deep vacuum in the sound of the reunited band. For my money, the percussion contributions of former Beck drummer Matt Sherrod and session players Rikki Gooch and Ethan Johns never rises above adequate.
Among several of the standout tracks that I have come to expect from the band, “Even a Child” is a moving deliberation about mortality that offers this interesting passage: “The stories left to write/ the ebb and flow of my life / to justify the end / I’ll do everything I can / and it’s a dangerous game / I heard you tell someone that you don’t care // But I don’t believe the message / and when you sing about love / What are you thinking of?”
On this song, Finn crafts the quintessential A-B-C composition with a strong verse, chorus and exceptional bridge part. As a balladeer, Finn knows few peers and the outstanding “A Sigh” owns all the ethereal qualities that he has so often showcased during his prolific career. The disc closes with the haunting “People Are Like Suns,” a metaphor for the cycle of existence. The song combines a nearly perfect infusion of melancholy tempered with the knowledge that everything earthly comes to an end.
Brought together first as friends attempting to understand the suicide of their band mate and then as successful musical collaborators, Time On Earth is a very personal album about love and loss. Rather than hit you over the head, Finn skillfully wraps his message about life in nebulous lyrics that doesn’t insult the listener’s intelligence. With only a year of age separating us, I identify with the themes expressed on this record and in the spirit of that message; I offer this quote from Annie Hall: Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”
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.