The title of Face To Face’s recently released retrospective, “Shoot the Moon,” references a song of the same name on the group’s extraordinary swansong, 2002’s How To Ruin Everything. The track, as catchy as the avian flu, is also one of the most weathered and mature pop punk song’s I’ve ever heard. Singer/guitarist/only long-term group member Trevor Keith’s voice barks out disillusioned and brilliant lines like “Back in ’95 when this was new / I really didn’t have a clue / thought the world would change with the right song,” displaying a bitter, caustic lyrical bent that in many ways paved the way for newer groups like Alkaline Trio and The Lawrence Arms, over catchy power chords, and a great guitar solo. The problem with Shoot the Moon (the album) can be summed up by the following piece of information: the song “Shoot the Moon,” despite being one of the best in Face To Face’s catalog and the name of the album, does not appear on the disc itself. Only two tracks from all of How to Ruin Everything are included; raucous opener “Bill of Goods,” and the average “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.”
There is nothing from the band’s penultimate release, the creative and extremely well done covers album Standards and Practices. There is nothing from the controversial Reactionary or the overlooked Ignorance is Bliss. There is nothing from their very good split with the Dropkick Murphys.
What is present in place of these oversights? A hook-filled punk album that makes the varied, emotional Face to Face seem like a one trick pony without a good trick. Nearly every track on the album has an identical tempo, and an identical chord progression. God knows why the band chose the tracks they did- maybe they were the most fun to play live or the most fun to record, but by the album’s end, they create a suffocating feeling of deja vus. Hell, the band bookends the album with two versions of their mediocre radio hit, “Disconnected,” the studio version as an opening track and a live take to end the album. Easily one of the weakest tracks in the band’s catalog, the song is an ode to the teenage awkwardness, but cannot rise above overused sentiment like “you don’t know a thing about me” and “I could tell you what you want to hear / just let your inhibitions go!”
There is no sense of development or progression over the course of the disc, but that makes sense, when one takes into account the scant representation from the second half of the band’s catalog. The lyrical content of the selected songs are the kind of phrases that sound great being shouted out in the middle of a mosh pit (I have fond memories of screaming along to “You Lied” at the Warped Tour a few years back), but are also slogans they print on shirts and sell for 25 bucks at hot topic. I don’t want to sound cynical, frumpy and old, but Face to Face were so much more than the straightforward pop punk band they appear as here.
If you are a band that only has 1 radio hit, why bother putting it as the first track and last track on your greatest hits? It negates the value of the songs in between, and, especially when that hit isn’t all that good, begins and ends the album on a mediocre not. Face to Face have a legacy to leave behind, and let’s just hope future generations of kids in chucks and spiked leather jackets don’t get the wrong impression from Shoot the Moon. Just two years ago, the band ended their last album with a beautiful acoustic number sporting the refrain “you know I’ll go running out and ruin everything.”
Yeah, pretty much.
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.
Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.
The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.
The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.
Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.
“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.
“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.
This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.