I keep a tin of mints in my car for my daily commute, a daily addiction of sorts. Better perhaps than cigarettes or something more toxic, but an addiction nonetheless. Usually, in between all the gear changes, I’m downing mints with the fervor reserved for a Friday drink after a long week. The other day I ran out of mints, then the traffic got bad, and this, and then that. It was one those days where the most infinitesimal of problems becomes an escapable avalanche of frustration. And as insignificant as they are compared actual problems, they become significant because we make them significant. Escape came from ten songs; songs of hope, despair, introspection, and life. They are the lifeblood that makes up Dave Hause’s new album, Kick, the next chapter in his glorious trek through America’s rock n’ roll heartland.
Hause, the lead singer of The Loved Ones (the American one), is no stranger to the genre either. The Loved Ones proved that heartland and punk rock could have a symbiotic relationship, one that would bring rock n’ roll’s blue-collar roots together with punk’s urgency and attitude. Through his solo work, he has pursued a genuine, down-to-earth Americana spread across now four full-length releases. Songs of loss, songs of aspiration and songs that have tried making sense of all the stops and starts of life. His music has always come with honesty and adept songwriting synonymous with the genre’s historic names. But speaking in more contemporary terms, Hause’s work has the kind of magnetic resonance that solidifies his name amongst the current crop of greats like Brian Fallon, Justin Townes Earle, and Jason Isbell. Kick is his best work yet, distilling the unending trials and tribulations of today- post-election divide, depression, global change, and the changing face of the American dream- in 10 bluesy, punk saturated, rock n’ roll songs.
As the opening chords of “Eye Aye I” chime in, there is an immediate uplift in mood. Perhaps it is the Mellencamp-
“The Ditch” is a windows-down, highway driving song, buoyed by the carefree spirit of rock n’ roll vagabonds, while “Saboteurs” takes its mid-tempo composition from more restrained confines. It’s got a very New Jersey sound but its glorious refrain takes cues from the big, almost orchestral tones that were made famous by The Who. As the song “Weathervane” kicked in, the traffic hadn’t gotten any better. And there’s something ironic about being stuck in traffic to a song whose up-tempo melodrama sings of “spinnin’ in a middle of a hurricane / spinnin’ like a weathervane now“. But it is Hause’s swaggering vocal delivery and confidence over stomping choruses and melodies that turns small ironies into glorious musical sketches. They soar over highways giving you that feeling even if you’re stationary.
If those songs weren’t enough to provoke a serious amount of reflection, then the beautifully serene “Fireflies” surely will. The song is stripped back, mostly just Hause, his guitar, and his harmonica- but it echoes with the heart and reverie of a thousand sunsets; a reminder that sometimes you don’t need anything else but a great voice and a guitar.
Missteps are a rarity, spare the occasional like “Civil Lies”, where heartland is replaced with more alternative soundscapes. And while Hause does his best Chris Cornell, it doesn’t quite vibrate with the same magnitude as the rest of the album. Those pickings are small and in the bigger picture, Kick is a wonderful album, a fine examination of soul-searching amongst political and personal discord. Hause has shown poise and grace in his introspection. Some of his musical contemporaries seem burdened by an immense pressure that weighs down their music- you can hear it when you listen to Brian Fallon’s Sleepwalkers. Hause on the other hand, still sings about life’s hardships and the success and failures of growing old but does it with this unmatched spirit. Three chords and a back beat is all you need they say, and with Kick Hause has found a way to embrace it and sing like it will all be OK in the end, even if it really won’t. I’m still stuck in traffic, still don’t have mints, but after these 10 songs, I’m OK with it.
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.