It must be good to be Adam Schlesinger. Not only is he one of the main cogs behind two of America’s smarter, savvier pop outfits (Ivy and Fountains of Wayne, two groups that would otherwise be entirely unrelated), but he can also lay claim to having written the insatiable title song to That Thing You Do, a half-dozen more on the soundtrack to the underrated movie adaptation of Josie and the Pussycats, producer to some of the pop underground’s top drawer talent (including David Mead and yes, even Fastball … remember them?), and heck, he even co-owns a swell studio with former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha. Tell me you wouldn’t want to be Adam Schlesinger. That’s right. Of course you would. Who wouldn’t want to be the Quincy Jones of the pop underworld?
It wouldn’t be a stretch to think of Ivy as Adam Schlesinger’s “other” gig by virtue of Fountains of Wayne’s modest success, but if the quality of the music had anything to do with that determination, they might very well have to ride in the same tour bus. Ivy’s fourth LP of originals (and fifth overall), In The Clear, is full of the group’s stock-in-trade, smooth, breezy pop that carries frontwoman Dominique Durand’s airy vocals along like clouds through dusky twilight. If you’ve run those Zero 7 records into the ground by now, In The Clear would make a fine proxy in the interim.
Schlesinger and guitarist Andy Chase are Ivy’s musical nervous system, the two masterminds behind a group that has reached that inevitable crossroads in their career where they have found the need to cross their early gifts, in this case their melodic sense, with their accumulated skills, in this case their studio experience. For the most part, they succeed in putting those two things together. Compared to their back catalogue, they’re not exactly rocking the boat stylistically-speaking, but these guys know what a good hook sounds like and where to put it. They’re also well aware that they have a unique lead vocalist, the Paris-born Durand, at their disposal. With In The Clear, they sound comfortable, but not complacent.
Cuts like the opening “Nothing But The Sky” and “Four In The Morning” play up the gravitationally-challenged, late-night implications of their titles, creating some effectively dreamy soundscapes. Each one is immediately adjacent to a hooky, uptempo popper, “Thinking About You” and “Tess Don’t Tell” respectively, either of which would be right at home on your local Triple A station placed haphazardly in between the new Jack Johnson and that old Stephen Stills tune about loving the one you’re with. “Keep Moving” rides a synthesizer line and skittering beat straight out of 1985, and the jaunty “I’ve Got You Memorized” gets you some good perspective on Durand’s accented vocals. Her vocals could occasionally use a little closed-captioning, but being that CDs are an entirely non-visual medium, you’re just going to have to suck it up. Besides, it’s only pop music; knowing the words isn’t exactly crucial to getting the vibe.
All in all, In The Clear is the kind of album that would be best served accompanying a nightcap after a night on the town with friends. It never steps into unexpected territory, but that isn’t synonymous with “dull” by any means. It’s a crisp, well-made album that embraces its production values without rolling around in them. Durand might be an acquired taste for some, but for me she’s at least a couple of steps ahead of Gwen Stefani’s proto-empowering yelps or the Olympic-level histrionic note strangling of innumerable American Idol contestants that would snap an ordinary person’s diaphragm in half. God forbid that someone actually sing within the confines of the song. Toss Durand’s sublime vocals in with two guys who know their way around a pop song, and you’ve got one pretty darn good album that knows where it belongs, no more, no less.
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.