It’s incredible to look back at the career of Dan Vapid and see that most of the bands he’s either helmed or been heavily involved in are some of the bands I call my favorites. It is a murderers’ row of pop punk bands, some indomitable, some were on the brink, and some were the next chapter in Vapid’s seemingly timeless pop punk songwriting. Screeching Weasel, undoubtedly is where you would have to start, and while you can argue that Ben wrote the vast majority of the material, Vapid was (and always will be) part of the band’s best lineup, and was partly responsible for some of Screeching Weasel’s most memorable songs (he co-wrote “Guest List” and a few other classic songs from My Brain Hurts and in my book, that solidifies his status as an important part of Weasel history).
It’s almost hard to separate Ben Weasel and Dan Vapid when it comes to their recorded output. There is so much crossover between the two, even outside of Screeching Weasel (Riverdales, Ben’s solo stuff) that sometimes it feels a little unfair to Vapid that he’s constantly stuck within this little circle of musicians that gravitated around Ben. But while Screeching Weasel carries baggage as it does weight, it was what Vapid did away from Weasel that confirmed his stature as a great songwriter, frontman and someone who could stand firmly out of the shadow of his previous band.
Whether you’re a fan of The Mopes or The Methadones, Vapid knew how to write a hook drenched in pop punk melancholia and infectiousness. I would argue that The Mopes’ 1998 record Accident Waiting to Happen is an all-time underrated pop punk album, and that songs like “Baby Doll” and “I Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye” would become precursors to the work he would do as Dan Vapid and The Cheats.
So now some 6 years since the last Dan Vapid and The Cheats album Two, we get the appropriately titled Three. The album is ten songs of pop punk goodness that are so very good. It is as if Vapid harnessed everything great of all his previous bands and channelled it all into the ten songs here. There is refinement, urgency and enough guts to make this a punk record that leans into bubble gum pop punk and power pop, without it having to rely on the in-your-face attitude of a Screeching Weasel record. Rarely is that a good thing too, but Dan Vapid’s ability to create melancholic sounds both hopeful and introspective comes off as incredibly gratifying. “The Time We Get” is Vapid’s ode to living life to its best, tracked to soaring guitars and the kind of vocal harmonies that made us fall in love with the era of pop punk he’s closely associated with. “Chase Away the Darkness” takes cues from more galactic sounding rock; buoyed by that crunching opening riff, the song sweeps into stratospheres covered by those big stadium filling rock bands. The song, layered with the many ideas that come with “chasing away the darkness” is at an opposite to its tonal composition; a big song about something closely personal. Who says Vapid can’t rock out?
While these songs are definitely tent-poles of Three, the moments where Vapid isn’t too concerned about sounding as grand are the album’s surprisingly best outings. “Bells of Maryville”, a sweet song about bringing life into this world, is straight forward pop punk but there’s something about the combination of the song’s composition, Vapid’s voice, and its Queers/Mopes amalgam that make it a truly fantastic song. “Dead Roses” however, is really something else- a wonderful song of the year contender. It is an earthy, rock n’ roll tinged number about heartbreak that skates along to great 60s-flavored beats with a foot firmly in the waters of sandy surf punk.
“Let Summer Work It’s Magic” and “Live a Little” is a great one-two combo to close out the album. Both soaked in the rays of hope and the uplifting side of punk. The “oohs” and “aahs” of “Let Summer…” compliment the up-tempo percussions while the “cmon cmon” bubble gum nature of the latter takes you back to the Queers’ “Punk Rock Girls”.
As Vapid sings the hook to “Let Summer…”, we are reminded that life’s often crazed rollercoaster ride is meant to lead us to one place. Dan Schafer, the man behind Vapid, has his legacy firmly entrenched in a punk history that he might not ever be able to escape from. But in reality, it really is OK- because as you listen to all the work he’s done away from Ben Weasel, you can see that he is more than an equal, and arguably, surpasses his former bandmate in writing songs that leave a lasting mark on those who listen.
“Sunshine warm our heavy hearts / life comes back to flourish / we can do the same / because everything is perfect where we are.”
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.