What makes for a good pop record? Is it the highly infectious hook with enough sugar coating to rot grandpa’s dentures or is it the suave, sexy beats permeating club floors? Does one write a good pop song when they sing of troubled life or is it only pop when we are left smiling at song’s end? The truth is, Top 40 radio is simply not reserved for just one genre – hip hoppers who rhyme about late night sexual escapades share the spotlight with young teen sensations who sing about late night sexual escapades, who in turn revel in the mass payola pay-off with pop rockers, country popsters and displaced indie rockers; all of who, in one way or another, are trying to stave off a one time only trip to one-hit wonderland.
So as this mass appeal madness continues to broaden its musical horizons, bands who wish to partake in Billboard chart lunacy have to face the notion that writing one good song won’t keep those royalty checks rolling in (unless of course it’s some insipid television show jingle that ends up being played every Thursday for almost a decade) and that retaining a listener’s attention is far more difficult than attracting it. Perhaps, the ultimate statement being that writing accessible music is stratospheres above writing songs of novelty.
If you’ve happen to catch Fountains of Wayne’s recent radio entry (“Stacy’s Mom” – long ride sing-a-long stickiness plus super vamped Rachel Hunter video), you could easily dismiss them for their overly sweet and endearing features; but they’re not some gimmick stricken novelty. With two full lengths (now three) filling their discography (Fountains of Wayne; 1996, Utopia Parkway; 1999), these Tri-state friendly lads have penned enough appealing songs to avoid being shelved with the Wheatuses of the world.
Welcome Interstate Managers is far from being just a power pop album; while they fuse chunkier-than-Rivers Cuomo-on-his-best-day riffs on a few occasions (“Stacy’s Mom”, “Bright Future in Sales” and the smartly wonderful “Mexican Wine”), they strum a much rooted acoustic driven rock/folk/country tone for the majority of this outing. And among these more gentle string pullings lie the unrelenting lyrical onslaught of sugary nice and cleverly simple.
It is that straightforward quality that immerses itself in bright sun-shiny grace. “Mexican Wine” features the rhyming couplets “And the sun still shines in the summertime / I’ll be yours if you’ll be mine / I tried to change but I changed my mind / Think I’ll have another glass of Mexican Wine” to the backdrop of crystal clear melodies, light keyboard touches and whole dose of “everything will be okay” thoughts. If fuzzed out guitars are too much to take paved with such saccharine lyrical tones, then the countrified licks of “Hung Up On You” may provide the settings for words that go “Well the house I’m ringing up from / is half a mile from you / But with reception I’m getting / Might as well be Timbuktu”. This sort of tasteful, yet humongously tongues-firmly-in-cheek persona elevates Welcome Interstate Managers into something great; like the rippling ocean waves caressing the warm sandy beach, a good portion of this album flourishes in fun and sunshine, teeming with seemingly lost optimistic glow.
So what makes a good pop record? Welcome Interstate Managers does – Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood are a formidable songwriting duo crafting accessible songs that are simplistic in nature but adaptive to the listener’s shifting tendencies. As previously stated, the trick is to write an album that has the staying power to survive the seemingly quick burnout of radio/TV rotation, and the latest offering from Fountains of Wayne is a legitimate pop-laced outing with depth; an ideal sound for the simmering days of summer; the sort of album you want to share with your friends.
(S-Curve / Virgin Records)
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.