In a music landscape where sustained quality and longevity are becoming ever rarer, it is remarkable to think that Goleta, CA’s Lagwagon have now been around for nearly 30 years. More impressive perhaps, is that with their longevity, they’ve maintained their resolute quality over the course of some nine albums. Railer, their ninth, is the work of a band comfortable in their own skin, unflinching, and untroubled by the short attention spans of both the industry and the listener. For those like myself who have been listening to Lagwagon for some 25 years or so, it’s been a comfort knowing that no matter how far away we waver from them as a listener, returning to Lagwagon music is like coming home to warm apple pie and a nice bed.
Railer takes cues from the more serious musical tones the band have exhibited since 2005’s Resolve. While much of Railer is still up-tempo, guitar-fueled melodicore, it’s got traces of the heavier that shows Lagwagon haven’t forgone any of the urgency despite their “age”. From the opening “Stealing Light” and the blazing cut “Surviving California”, Joey Cape and company show that there’s still a lot of passion and fire in their songwriting. Cape’s voice is as distinct as it was on Duh as it is today; giving their music another unwavering constant. There is very little letting up through the album’s 12 tracks, save the occasional deviation like the melodicore-turn-new wave outing “Jini” (evoking Let’s Talk About Feelings and tracks like “Leave the Light On”). In the terrific “Parable”, Lagwagon paints a biblical song of introspection, despair, and hope, wrapped in Cape’s clever lyrical wordplay (“Where do we begin / Wonder is a sin / A dog that we name dogma / The cat we won’t forgive / We’d go outside to play / But it’s not safe today“), while the bouncy “Bubble” is a fun, wistful outing of old memories and a longing for yesterdays long gone (“Throwback in the van / Cranking the oldies like Samiam / Jawbreaker, Mr. T Experience / Never rock anything new“).
A cover of Journey’s “Faithfully” is a great closing, and like the many covers Lagwagon have done before (their cover of “Brown Eyed Girl” is still the best), show their willingness to underline the more serious nature of some of their songs with lightheartedness. It is a small but important part of Lagwagon’s long appeal. They have always had the ability to write great songs, but have never once forgotten who they are. Railer is proof that a Lagwagon record will probably always sound like a Lagwagon record, and while that may feel like a detriment to some, it is, in reality, one of their great strengths. Cape has been involved with many different music projects over the years. He’s experimented with different sounds with Bad Astronaut, written solo material under his own name, and of course, been part of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. But for all the different music he’s created, Lagwagon has always been Lagwagon.
Railer is remarkable because songs like “The Suffering” (complete with philosopher Bertrand Russell quote and all) and “Pray For Them”, sound like the work of angry and frustrated young twentysomethings making sense of the world we live, except with the poise and reflection of a band who have been doing this for 30 years.
Consistency is often overlooked as a creative trait, but Railer is proof that it is a timeless quality, especially when it is this good. You can hear and feel the evolutionary changes in the record, but the core and the heart of it are still very much intact. There’s a wonder in finding new musical ground, but if you are like me and first listened to Lagwagon with 1995’s Trashed, Railer is very much like apple pie and very much proof that sometimes (a lot of the time), there’s nothing better than coming home.
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.
Pine – Pine
Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia
Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.
Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.
The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.
For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.