It is a beautiful Sunday morning on the first May weekend in Surf City, which is perfect for the mammoth volleyball tournament going on at the pier. Yes, nothing stimulates me more than sitting with bikini clad babes and tan, hunky dudes watching the likes of Misty May and Kerri Walsh inflict a beating upon their opponents. I’m all about the sunshine and sand; that is why my pasty, white ass is firmly planted at my desk typing a review for Sound the Sirens. Today’s offering to the God of tin ears is Freer, a band that has sprung up from the mean streets of Detroit to share an “avant-garde creative attitude” that makes “music that is not only artfully meaningful but fun to listen to as well.” At least that’s what their press kit says but since they misspelled that bloody French adjective, I decided I would have to take these guys for a test drive before determining if they were true artists.
“Long Road Home” is a solid opening track that combines the accessible yet linear simplicity of late 60s rock with the 80s ethereal sound of the Cure. My only objection is that the bridge section sounds a bit too much like “Under The Milky Way” by the Church. “Taking Me Over” also has a minimalist arrangement that is super clean, nicely played and features good lead vocals by keyboardist Jeremy Freer. “I Think You Know” is a dynamic song with a combination of sounds reminiscent of the early work of Split Enz. This one features outstanding guitar and bass parts working effectively together to enhance engaging song changes. Jeremy does a great job on both electric piano and vocals on the pretty, melancholy “Dreams Disappear” that unfortunately suffers from less than stellar lyrics. Also flawed from feeble words is “Souvenirs,” a song that otherwise showcases excellent acoustic guitar work, vocal harmonies and melodic quality.
Freer consistently does a good job writing interesting melodies and the epic “Snails” is a cool throwback to the progressive arena rock of the early 1970s. This imaginative arrangement almost makes me forget this line: “There’s a road where you find / no one finds you / and you feel so unreal / and the snails come out in time to remind you / you can’t always trust the way you feel” Well I don’t know about you, but beyond occasionally enjoying some escargot, snails have never been a barometer for my emotional stability.
Musically speaking, Secret Chorus serves up a fine course of melodically pleasing songs that are well arranged and imaginatively executed. It is unfortunate that once again the songwriters seem to have played hooky during their creative writing lessons in favor of attending music theory class. My recommendation is to go down to Borders and buy a couple of old Dylan records or perhaps some poetry books written by Jim Carroll or Gary Snyder.
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.