When New York post-punk band Interpol burst onto the indie music scene with their masterpiece Turn on the Bright Lights in the wake of the latest form of New York music revivalism created by the frenzy over The Strokes, the band was lauded for representing something different. The band’s music, drawing from a different pool of post-punk bands than The Strokes and their ilk, namely Joy Division and New Order, was macabre and atmospheric, and most importantly, more genuine than the music of other New York bands. While The Strokes acted and sang like they were doing coke with supermodels in the basements of seedy nightclubs, Interpol didn’t need to sing about it; it was simply implied by the way they played and looked.
The band’s 2004 follow-up, Antics, was far from a sophomore slump, with many songs being released as singles, the album was all together more accessible for the average music-fan, but lacked the intensity and atmosphere of Bright Lights. Following the major UK chart success of Antics, and a steadily increasing fan base after consistent touring, Interpol left the label that released their first two albums, famed indie imprint Matador, and jumped ship to the evil empire of Capitol Records for their third album Our Love to Admire. The early prediction for Our Love to Admire was that the band was going to go way out on a limb, and go in an entirely different direction from Antics, not unlike the changes Joy Division went through in the short time between their first and second albums. Then came the deal with Captiol, and predictions shifted to the band making Antics 2, just banging out a couple of nice singles and calling it a day. Our Love to Admire is neither, as it finds the band expanding it’s scope with increased production, more instruments, and longer songs, and at the same time, it’s a calculated move towards the middle of the road, with the band going out on few limbs, and relying on their past success.
The album starts with “Pioneer to the Falls,” a song that was clearly made for the band’s festival gigs, and (cross your fingers) Madison Square Garden gigs, with the band sounding more like U2 than Joy Division, it is a slowly building arrangement, and has stadium-ready vocals. While still featuring the band’s signature dark elements, the song has an oboe in the intro, an instrument never meant to be played by anyone other than nerdy guys who can’t play the saxophone in high school band: it most certainly should not be on the third album by the coolest rock band on Earth. Tracks like lead single “The Heinrich Maneuver,” which crackles over a pounding syncopated drum riff played by the band’s best kept secret, drummer Sam Fogarino, “All Fired Up” which features an updated take on Television’s snaking dual guitar riffs, and “Mammoth,” recall the band’s best songs, but seem phoned in, lacking the intensity of their past singles.
Lead singer and songwriter Paul Banks, seems to have taken a firmer control over the band with Our Love to Admire, as the vocals take front and center, as opposed to being merely part of the musical composition on the band’s past releases. The only problem is that Banks’ lyrics are pretty out there, and when they were veiled by the music on past releases, the listener didn’t have to think about them at all, and if they did, couldn’t explain what he was really singing about. Now, with the singing up front, the lyrics become important. On “No I in Threesome,” Banks laments about how he is coaxed into a threesome with his girl and finds himself left out of the sexual experience. On “Rest My Chemistry,” Banks sings about doing coke, having sex in hallways and not being able to bring himself to have sex with a very young groupie. Now, interesting topics, but I swear, these are the same themes on R. Kelly’s latest album. Not exactly stuff you’d expect from a cool rock band. The main problem with the album, is the fact that the band seems to have become self aware, and are certain that they’re good enough to pull off three minute outros like on “Wrecking Ball,” or that they are good enough to add some orchestration on nearly all the tracks. The band has apparently forgotten why they were so great in the first place: they wrote three-and-a-half minute, terse post-punk songs that crackled with some unforeseen intensity that couldn’t be explained, it needed to be heard. Instead, they now want to write 7 minute orchestral pop songs that become tired after three minutes and two listens. What happened?
So with Our Love to Admire, Interpol reaches for more fans, expands their atmospherics, and fall flat on their face trying to be U2 instead of Joy Division. Now the band will be faced with the everlasting question of indie bands who jump to major labels: is it better to have complete creative control and the ability to experiment at an indie label and have a small group of devoted fans, or is it better to have increased distribution, have to deal with label politics and demands, and have a bunch of un-devoted fans?
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.