Five Iron Frenzy – Engine of a Million Plots
Five Iron Frenzy continue their remarkable track record with songs still entrenched in their love of ska, rock and punk.
In my review for Less than Jake’s See The Light, I made mention of several bands who always held the third wave ska flag high with their craft. For some reason, I forgot to mention Five Iron Frenzy, who after a ten-year hiatus are back with a kindling of new songs, tied together with a deft ribbon titled Engine of a Million Plots. In hindsight, this oversight is made ever more glaring upon repeated listens of the new album, a wonderfully nostalgic but incredibly refreshing repaving of an old road.
That old road, third wave, has seen a remarkable rekindling over the last few weeks, most notably from their “old guard” of established acts still breathing the fire they did when they first burst on to their respective musical landscapes. Five Iron Frenzy, perhaps slightly less on the forefront than say Less than Jake or the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were during their height of popularity, had been one of the more consistent acts. Their albums were always good, in many ways. My most compelling recollection was their album Our Newest Album Ever!, a sprightly, homely at times, wind in your hair ska/punk album that dug deep into the core of what it was growing up during these times.
Now a decade removed from their last output, Five Iron Frenzy continue their remarkable track record with songs still entrenched in their love of ska, rock and punk, while being in tune with the contemporary world around them. The album’s musical output is as strong as ever; with tracks like the up-tempo “We Own The Skies” and “Against a Sea of Troubles” showcasing their impeccable blending of ska and punk while “So Far” (candidate for best song they’ve ever written?) is your uplifting anthem driving home the band’s trademark tone and message.
There’s an energy and vibrancy to this album that you’d think would dissipate after all these years, but it seems the ten-year gap has not only re-energized the band, but has armed them with a bounty of material. There is a greater injection of alternative rock than we’ve seen in the past, but the amalgamation of the band’s past with its present and future comes together in an incredibly rewarding manner.
As songs like “I’ve Seen The Sun” and “Blizzards & Bygones” close out proceedings, you are left with a certain blessing of musical enlightenment and artistic satisfaction. There is depth in the album but there is also a great feeling of warmth through it all. With the Engine of a Million Plots, we’re taken on the ups and downs of life and music with poise and grace. An enriching and rewarding listen.
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.