Nostalgia can be an intoxicating thing. Like many long gone bands who have once again donned their guitar straps, Richmond, Virginia punks Fun Size have shelved their hiatus and have released their first album since 1998. For some, the nostalgia and another chance to cash in become the determining factor behind their drive, but for Fun Size, whose genesis as a band was formed when being punk was more about the true freedom of musical expression, Since We Last Spoke is an unbelievable breath of fresh, and familiar, air.
If you’ll let me digress a little; the band’s debut, Pop Secret, was a real gem, an album I found while browsing a Tower Records in Singapore some 15 years ago. Its songs, all rough around the edges and raw, exemplified the youthful unkemptness of 90s punk rock; when the actual songs mattered more than the production value and when bands of this nature wrote songs to play them in front of their friends. Songs like “Pickle” still hold up better than what the majority of what their contemporary counterparts produce (and not surprisingly, the line in the song, “we were here before you were / and we’ll be here after you’re gone”, is apropos in describing Generation Now). When the band signed to Fueled by Ramen for the release of their 1998 album Glad To See You’re Not Dead (this was before Fueled by Ramen started releasing junk), it seemed the band was on the up and up. The material on Glad To See… was a distinct change from Pop Secret. They weren’t afraid to add complexity to their music, forgoing the standard punk rock song writing structure for songs like “Pretentious Porch”. At the time perhaps, it went against what punk was “evolving” into, and not long after, the band called it a day.
Fast forward to 2013 and we’re getting a new Fun Size album that is not only the most polished effort they’ve released, but the most energetic and urgent sounding record they’ve done. “Useless, Useless” is the album’s high gear attitude that revs up Since We Last Spoke, a left hook reminder that the band may have been out of the spotlight, but didn’t lose any of their musical potency. Melodic, fast paced songs about the trials and tribulations of life wrapped in frenetic guitar work (“End of the Road”) and skate punk sensibilities (the terrific “Try Not to Care”), Since We Last Spoke is nostalgic yes, but convincingly new. For fans of 90s melodicore like Good Riddance, and for those who rode the wave that brought Unwritten Law and fellow Virginian’s Ann Beretta to the fold, will find much to like about Fun Size’s return.
It’s been a long time between drinks for Fun Size, and while the new album is more straight forward than their previous efforts, it is their ability to evoke sounds from the last generation of punk that gives Since We Last Spoke a distinct stamp of approval.
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.