It’s been a pretty fascinating ride for Victorville punk rockers Face to Face. The band’s trademark melodic punk rock took them from the small California town to the then heights of endless KROQ rotation and MTV’s Jon Stewart Show. They rode their ability to turn melodic punk into a near art form, and unlike their predecessors Bad Religion and their kind, Trever Keith’s song writing leaned more on his emotive lyricism than say political anarchy. His heart was firmly on his sleeve and through songs like “I Want”, “Don’t Turn Away” and “Disconnected”, Face to Face became the preeminent force behind emotionally charged melodic punk that managed to sway clear of the trappings of what eventuated into “emo”. Yet, while they remained on the forefront of this genre, they’ve never really had the stability that comes with finding a long term recording home. Face to Face has been through more record labels than the number of albums they’ve released. They’ve had the goods to break into the mainstream (1996’s Face to Face was as big of a rock album as you were ever going to get without them sounding like Green Day) but have never really quite reached the levels they seemingly wanted to achieve. But through it all, the one thing that has remained consistent is the band’s ability to write great songs in whatever variation of punk/rock they’ve conceived.
Their latest, Three Chords and a Half Truth, finds the band on Rise Records (their 9th), deviating away from the breakneck melodic punk rock their pedigree was built on for a more rockabilly, rock n’ roll twist. And while their post-hiatus album (2011’s Laugh Now, Laugh Later) was a more by-the-numbers affair, Three Chords… breaks away from them into Social Distortion territory with touches of The Clash. It’s clear then, that Keith and company aren’t interested in writing another Don’t Turn Away and instead, ease into an album that could have easily been the follow up to How To Ruin Everything. There are more mid tempo pieces, more blues influences, and more foot-tapping melodies than anything they’ve written before. From the stomping opening of “123 Drop” to the horn-section (yes) infused “Welcome Back to Nothing”, Three Chords… will surely polarize fans expecting something familiar.
They have of course, done something like this before. After releasing their A&M Records debut in 1996, they went and released Ignorance is Bliss, a polarizing record if there were ever one. Three Chords probably isn’t as divisive as Ignorance, but songs like the 50’s swing influenced “Marked Man” and the rockabilly tinged “First Step, Misstep” are actually more contrasting (musically) to “Disconnected” than, say, “Burden” or “Everyone Hates a Know-it-all”. They do delve back into the old playbook once or twice, “Smokestacks and Skyscrapers is a fantastic melody-driven song that could easily fit next to anything on Big Choice. While singles “Right As Rain” and “Bright Lights Go Down” owe more to their earlier material or at the very least, music from their Vagrant-era.
The most telling aspect of Three Chords is how comfortable they sound with their new material. There was a certain awkwardness to Ignorance Is Bliss (for the record, I do really like that album), and their please-the-fans follow-up Reactionary was even worse. But here, they sound complete; like natural progression. So perhaps the band, having long mastered the style in which they became synonymous for, have found the next logical evolution of their craft. It isn’t as raw as a Social Distortion record, not so whiskey-soaked and down trodden, but there is a real belief here. And while older fans will probably be a little disappointed by its lack of pace, the album is a definite step forward.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.