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Heavens – Patent Pending

Heavens’ debut should command your immediate attention as nothing short of this year’s best work to date

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If the Smiths met up with a few lovelorn zombies in the depths of some Roman catacombs equipped with synthesizers and organs, the jamfest that would surely ensue has no chance of resembling something far from Heavens’ debut Patent Pending

Far darker than even the gloomiest of Alkaline Trio’s work, Matt Skiba and Josiah Steinbrick of Heavens prove with this release that a “side project” can soak up the limelight, and impressively do so with these eerie musical tales of love, loss and death. Although both men’s respected current central focuses, Alkaline Trio (Skiba) and Thieves Like Us (Steinbrick), are both deserving of all the thriving success that each achieves, one cannot help but wonder if Heavens merits just as much good fortune. 

Patent Pending displays similarities in the simple yet excellent production effects that showed up in extraordinary debuts from other alternative bands such as the Bravery. They provide for a ghostly yet hopeful aura and sound downright lovely in the songs with a lighter, pretty undertone- all of which pump vitality into the dread and dead without losing the album’s authentic tone of wistful sorrow. 

Specifically though, the CD starts out surprisingly strong with “Gardens,” a track intertwined with poetic minor chords and subtle harmonies. “Counting,” the song that follows, showcases classic punk rock drumbeats and great tune-fitting lyrics (“I’ll announce the grand prize / arterial spray paints the carpet before your eyes.”) The rest of the album upholds the caliber of these couple songs and makes it look easy while doing so.

Although this is a partnership and Steinbrick was the force behind Heavens’ very creation, Skiba sets the bar for this release high out of sheer talent, especially with a certain unforgettable deadpan inflection in his crooning. In a day and age where bands make it big by cloning others, this signature sound is refreshing. It works to his advantage too- masterfully comforting Alkaline Trio lovers yet grabbing hold of unsuspecting bystanders and snaring them in as well.

Really though, the truth is that Skiba has always had a beautifully hollow voice and a sharp mind for poetry, and Patent Pending displays his strongest abilities. Although more involved in instrumentation, Steinbrick contributes his own strong talents as well, and the two are inarguably better paired than Thelma & Louise. Bypassing all the other groups trying to set their handprints deeper and deeper into the mold of alternative historical concrete, Heavens’ debut should command your immediate attention as nothing short of this year’s best work to date, and if it doesn’t leave you speechless, I will be.

(Epitaph Records)

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Crossed Keys – Saviors

Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds

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Crossed Keys Saviors

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.

(Hellminded Records)

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Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”

A glorious sound of a time gone by

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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.

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