“A loss for words” and other such enthusiastic proclamations are overused hyperbole in our vast musicverse. Yes, we often encounter artists and music that leave us close to breathless, and perhaps this exaggeration merely enforces our enchantment with what has befallen our eyes and ears. Yet I am reluctant to jump forth with describing Munich-bred electronica outfit Lali Puna’s latest effort as leaving me at “a loss for words.” And it is not due to the fact that Faking the Books isn’t a mesmerizing listen, because it is, but because the eager need to find something to bookend with quotation marks has become a needless practice of tedious separation. If I had simply touted Faking the Books as “one of the year’s best” (which it is) without necessarily challenging it, questioning it, then perhaps it is not worthy of such praise.
What is important to note is that Faking the Books isn’t endless blips, loops, samples, and atmospheric experimentation. It is the album’s strongest quality; that while rooted in electronic music, Valerie Trebeljahr and company aren’t afraid to include more organic undertones. Portions of the album, noted in “B-Movie” and again in “Left Handed,” are strongly driven by a backbone of percussions, searing guitars, and more rudimentary songwriting, but layered with subtle hints of more luscious soundscapes. Perhaps the album’s most well-received track, “Call 1-800-FEAR,” actually sounds more like a great indie rock song than something conceived with mere key strokes.
It is however, when Trebeljahr and the rest of the group let loose their ability to create chilling environments of noise, sound, and echo that the album really shines. “People I Know” boasts great work in regards to sound reverberation and echo; skittering in and out of harmony and melody with the charm and wit to last the song’s entire duration (close to 5 minutes). And I’ve grown immensely fond of Lali Puna’s ability to be casual one moment, and distinctly challenging the next- the contrast is seen between the aforementioned “People I Know” and it’s following track “Grin and Bear;” which actually transfers in the opposite the direction (but effective nonetheless).
Strangely, the one track that amazes me the most is neither the album’s most uniquely testing, or one that can be called the defining moment of the release. It in fact, could very well be the album’s most subdued outing. I am referring to the opener, “Faking the Books,” a rather innocuous wave of melancholic, yet lustful serenity that seems to act as nothing more than opening bars; but what a beautiful beginning it is. It captures calm, paints pictures, and evokes sadness, all in lucid simplicity. And in alluding to one of my earlier statements, it is important for an album to be challenged. But not merely challenged for the sake of doing so- it has to MAKE you ask the questions, and Faking the Books has answers that do just that. I want to wonder why at times a song feels awkward in certain moods, and why during other moments the same song feels like the chilly morning breeze.
Electronic music has at times been perceived as “above” most other genres- some have created certain separation between this so-called “better” music and those who may toil beneath. But I honestly do not believe this to be true, and it has always been my perception that Lali Puna skate between two great bands; the beautiful pop aura of Stars and the radiant moods created by The Notwist. Maybe some may see these protagonists of music difficult to understand or conceive, thus creating this “post-The Bends Radiohead” syndrome where listeners are immediately put off by the absence of human generated music, and/or the lack of distinctive organized compositions. Unfortunately, those who partake in this sort of narrow thinking will ultimately miss out on great records like Faking the Books; it is more universal than one might think. Besides, pretension can, and is, often mistaken for sophistication.
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.