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.
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.