Market saturation is a terrible thing. It is the multi-headed harbinger of music’s greatest foes; monotony and sameness. It spews forward in endless amounts, permeating our living rooms, our car stereos and our toned-into-repetition minds with alarming effectiveness, diluting our most wicked of senses. Our fabled music industry has deftly mastered the art of flooding; turning morsels of decent ideas into tsunamis of unexceptional trivia. If these waves were not damaging enough to our fragile landscapes, then the one-hand-in-our-wallets-fake-wink-of-the-eye routine they pull is about as insulting as our often naïve commercial drive to buy into this junk. It is unfortunate, this market saturation thing, because Mando Diao will ultimately suffer from inherent retro-rock backlash. It is an unfair predicament to be in because these fun packed Swedes (yes, Sweden – can’t escape from it can they?) have written a record filled with some of the finest beat influenced rock jangles this side of the 50’s and 60’s.
Bring Em In is sharp musings of said time period, one that merely seems to have been displaced in our chronological continuum. Unlike many of their current counterparts who update bygone sounds with modern narrative, chic jive and pretentious overtones; Mando Diao cavorts in gifted historical association. They are a cosmic rekindling of The Who with graceful sprinklings of bluesy guitars and an uncaring sense of freedom that remains through the eras. It’s the sort of underlying rhythmic sentiment that reflects in the ‘My Generations’ of this world – ultimately unending and timeless.
“Sheepdog” is the frontrunner, equipped with paralyzing percussion punching and the strong pull from the frenzied bass and guitar partnership that only compliments the track’s vocal competence. It evokes the same high-energy as an “I Can’t Explain”, a wide-eyed-grab-you-by-the-throat awakening. It forms an exciting one-two punch with “Sweet Ride”, the album’s ultimate highway hotrod soundtrack; a roaring compositional flurry with just a tad of harmonic love suited best for that blistering open road wind in your hair.
Mando Diao are simply fantastic in these depictions of moments. Take the organ soaked “Mr. Moon” as an example. Its jaded nature and solemn approach is rich in its passing affection, the quiet lonesome spiral caught by the words, “I wanna love you but I’m growing old / Ten little soldiers screaming in my soul / The day is using up its final breath / I’ve never been so sure”. The track is in distinct contrast to “The Band”, a spirited homage to pulsing beat rock; with its organ driven 50’s fueled guitar flustering and wailing vocal harmonies, it screams wild fun-filled nights of letting go.
There is a seamless transition between these more fussy rock anecdotes and those with an abundance more blues and soul. While they certainly do pay tribute, the album comes off not as some hackneyed, indiscernible paean; but each track an accomplishment in its own. “Motown Blood” oozes dirty swamp boogie pizzazz with its funkdooby bass thumping and blues groove, the likes of which B.B King would praise, and it doesn’t feel merely content at being so – influenced, but not dependent.
This seamlessness is quite the strength, you may bounce around from mop-top British rock n’ roll but when you hit the hot heat of America’s south, it’s an incredibly accepting welcome. Perhaps the album’s lone weakness lies in the closing “Lauren’s Cathedral”, the obligatory southern-tinged ballad that feels like the slow setting sun. While certainly less taking than the previous numbers, it manages to crawl into some salvation, a fitting reflective dissolve of sorts.
Oh woe to our music industry for trying to milk too much of a good thing; if it weren’t for the recent deluge of decent to good rock bands that have more than satiated a certain licentious craving for the rock n’ roll zenith, Mando Diao would be on their way to this unsurpassed apex – ultimately sharing the same podium with those sanctified. Nonetheless, those who are unfazed by the wealth of choice will see that Bring Em In is blessed with the same aura of excitement that 1965’s My Generation had, an exhilaration felt while spinning the record for the very first time, an undying importance that no amount of waterlog can sink.
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.