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Joshua – Baggage EP

Baggage features five tracks (two of which are acoustic) that lean far more towards the undemanding side of indie rock rather than the sagging, emotional drain of their earlier work

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Joshua are quite the emo anomaly; once the darlings of the genre, their presence went from the thoroughfares of Napster’s best days to the unfortunate mumblings of “what ever happened to?” and the occasional joyous find at local Mom and Pop record stores.

Capturing much of the attention in their early Doghouse days, they reached a pinnacle through, of all things, a self-titled single that still holds their two finest offerings; “Divide Us” and “Your World is Over.” It is quite strange to think that while many of their counterparts (who ply their trade in very much the same scope) have ascended to far greater heights, Joshua have never scaled higher than occasional scene reminiscence and the inquisitive wondering of lost potential. Nonetheless, while they floated very much under the radar (I thought, at this point, they had clearly disbanded), their music never waned from the early musings they exhibited with convincing ability.

And indeed, it seems it has come time for their last hurrah; the Baggage EP is in fact their bidding of farewell. This joint release between English label Engineer and Spanish collective Trece Grabiciones, while musically sound, is perhaps not the best representation of their seven-year career. Baggage features five tracks (two of which are acoustic) that lean far more towards the undemanding side of indie rock rather than the sagging, emotional drain of their earlier work. The EP opens strong enough; “A Better Place” exhibits fluffy guitar riffs coupled with an extremely endearing refrain that finds its roots entrenched in boyish 60’s melodies. It is by far the release’s most compelling offering: neatly written, well-produced, while demonstrating a knack for radio-friendly “oohs oohs” and sugar-soaked harmonies.

“Repetition Forever” can be best described as a struggle between being calculatedly E-M-O and the more airy rock threads “A Better Place” exhibited. For the most part, the tune isn’t bad by any stretch – never to flail aimlessly at any one recognizable trap said three-letter genre is known for; but never really sticking it in any forceful manner. The song, for lack of a better explanation, is just there – not quite rockin’ out, but not quite being a black hole of watery, weary songwriting. The real gem of the bunch is “Perfect Man,” a no-nonsense pop-rock number that could have easily found itself as musical accompaniment to any nostalgic, 1960s one-hit-wonderdom; sounding at times, ever so similar to “That Thing You Do.”

There is little to be said about the EP’s acoustic tracks. Neither exceeds the mark of teary-eyed guitar twiddling, and both hash through nothing novel or remotely interesting for that matter. It leaves Baggage very brief, and for a parting shot one would probably want a little more. Nonetheless, the EP shows their songwriting at its most progressed; evolving from the extremely raw, and potently scarring constructs of their earliest material, to the more sophisticated, refined approach found here. In a sense, it mimics their career: a few bright flashes, a disappearing act and before you know it, a goodbye.

(Engineer Records / Trece Grabaciones)

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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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