In the late 90s when I spent a great deal of my spare time thumbing through punk rags like Flipside, I came across a few rock n’ roll bands that were on the ears of writers and readers as bands we had to hear and experience. Garage rock n’ roll, in particular, had a lot of crossover with punk, so it was only natural for punk scribes to find the appeal in the riff equivalent of dirty, Whiskey-drenched sleaze that these bands were known for. Column after column I read about Zeke, Nashville Pussy, and Electric Frankenstein. Zeke took Motorhead and doused it with gasoline, Nashville Pussy took sleaze to new heights, but for me, Electric Frankenstein was the perfect balance between rock n’ roll and punk.
My first Electric Frankenstein experience was their 1999 album How to Make a Monster; a bellowing, rage-filled record that was packed with searing hot riffs, dirty vocals, and at times, sludgy mid-tempo hard rock. This album smoked back in 1999, helped by songs like the rip-roaring opener “Cut From the Inside” and the Motorhead-esque “Speed Girl”, that found themselves next to the hard rock/metal tone of “Friction” and the slower, alternative-flavored “Pretty Deadly”. It also helped that as a big fan of the Kevin Smith movie Mallrats, the album’s closer “Phatty Boom Batty”, paid homage to one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
Now 20 years later, Victory Records and Electric Frankenstein are celebrating the album’s 20th anniversary by remastering and reissuing the record. The remaster sounds fantastic- with the remaster making the songs sound fuller, and with added low-end growl. There is no question the improved quality of the recording over its original 1999 release. The guitars sound crisper than they did on the original, and for once, a record sounding louder comes across as welcomed. There aren’t any new songs on here, but the reissue does include new artwork by Coop, new liner notes, as well as few new tidbits found inside. All of it is nice, but the main course of this is the record- and the songs are still as great as they were back in 1999 as they are today. A testament to the songwriting of Electric Frankenstein; not a lot of fuss and devoid of self-indulgent BS. How to Make a Monster is still exhilarating, dirty, and dangerous rock n’ roll. It is a sound, fueled by loud guitars and a “f*ck you” attitude that is as timeless and thrilling as the sound of turning that ignition key in a classic American muscle car.
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.
Pine – Pine
Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia
Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.
Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.
The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.
For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.