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Kraftwerk – Minimum-Maximum

In an almost ironic way, the music Kraftwerk has spawned is now reflected back again in the band

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This is a very intimidating review to write. So, like a pansy, I have been stalling and stalling on writing this beginning paragraph. So I end up with this half-assed piece of a meta-review. But you have to understand, my reader, Kraftwerk is everything as far as modern music goes. Perhaps only they and the Velvet Underground have had such a profound effect on the state of music today. Life VU, they stretched the boundaries of what could be considered pop music. They were the first fully electronic group to be treated as a legitimate band. On top of breaking ground with electric instruments and experimentation, the music they’ve made is actually good, by almost anyone’s standards. Couple that with the far-reaching influence they still hold today and I cannot help but cower as a reviewer in the shadow of the mighty monolith Kraftwerk has become.

Then I look at the band; four awkward former computer programmers from Germany. Despite their attempts to disguise the fact, Kraftwerk is still helmed by four human beings. They just happened to have a preternatural knack for what can be done with electronic, and now digital, music, and an ear for melody to boot. It seems with many such bands, Kraftwerk was in the right place at the right time with the right sound. And damn it, it makes me jealous. Here the world sits, several decades after the formation of Kraftwerk, and they still hold sway over it. Good lord, I have to stop using hyperbole. But it seems Kraftwerk is one of the few bands to deserve it.

I’m not even going to get into the argument of “electronic music isn’t music” so many people have lobbed at me over the years. In my mind, Kraftwerk’s discography makes this a moot point. This live album, Minimum-Maximum, captures that essence of the band’s history on two disks. One could almost consider it a greatest hits, but it not only documents the band’s past, but how they have changed. Classics like “Autobahn” remain the same in essence, but show the evolution of not only the group but of the equipment they use. For Kraftwerk, the instruments are an important part of the music itself. With the advances of digital technology, Kraftwerk is now able to produce a live show with the audio quality of a studio recording. This is evident in the album, as the only thing hinting at this being a live recording is the occasional burst of noise from the crowd (which the band could certainly have fixed had they wanted to). The music is crisp and perfectly synchronized.

In an almost ironic way, the music Kraftwerk has spawned is now reflected back again in the band. It is like some strange space-time bending funhouse mirror, as hints of various new electronic sub-genres are reappearing in the very thing that spawned them. For instance, the version of “Metal on Metal” recorded here could easily be imagined playing in the waning hours of a rave (Kraftwerk would never pound hard enough to fuel the beginning of one). And “The Robots” seems akin to the pop industrial that NIN has been producing lately (sorry Mr. Reznor for calling you pop). For me, that reflection coupled with the insane crowd reaction captured at the beginnings and endings of songs are enough to show how much of an influence Kraftwerk has had. After all, this crowd is screaming over the sight of four aging German men standing at consoles. But what amazing men they are.

(Astralwerks)

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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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