I’m sure at least a few readers have heard the highly lauded debut album by Mando Diao. I think it is fair to say that expecting them to make any broad strides between that first album and its follow up so quickly is asking far too much. So keep that in mind when listening to Hurricane Bar. The band hasn’t really done anything jaw-droppingly different to their sound, but personally I like it that way. Among all of the bands in the so-called “rock revival,” the majority seem to focus on the trashy, garage rock side. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, but after a while attitude alone just doesn’t cut it. Fortunately, Mando Diao know the value of melody, and it is instantly obvious.
The band has the raw edge of 1960s garage bands (the Animals, the Kingsmen, etc.), but they also have the musical sensibilities of the British Invasion. Simply put, they aren’t afraid to drape fantastically catchy melodies over the basic rock and roll backdrop. “God Knows” has one of the most ear-pleasing melodies I have heard from any rock band this century. Especially when sung by part-time lead singer Björn in a suave, almost sexy croon. Contrasted with Björn’s velvety pipes are the unbridled wails of Gustaf, the group’s second lead singer. Between the two, the band seems to strike a balance between their seemingly contradictory styles: the composed and the reckless. It doesn’t matter whether you shout or sing along with the lyrics, you still can’t help but make some sort of noise. I hate to use clichéd terms, but Mando Diao are damn infectious.
“Down in the Past” is a driving, pulsating number, reaching a towering crescendo in the choruses as Björn’s vocals stretch higher, accompanied by a swell of organ and trailed by a guitar solo that is actually good. Such a solo is a rare feat these days, finding the odd middle ground between pointless wanking about and lifeless scale exercises. The lyrics reflect the youthful, mod influence that Mando Diao so proudly displays. The songs are full of faithless girls, oppressive small towns, and a desperate desire to just break out. The band isn’t solely dominated by simple emotions, there is also an intellectual slant that still sounds apropos, such as “I met her in a crowded room where the bookshelves help you and knowledge takes your hand.”
The reason I would choose this band over the many retro-rock revivalists (I think I just dry-heaved writing that) is because they are a complete package. They have youthful energy, a firm grasp on melody, a disdain for the blasé, and enough intelligence to know what blasé means. Too often bands sacrifice one or more of these to work on the one that is selling the best, which is usually just the youthful exuberance and disdain … not for anything in particular, just disdain in that sexually frustrated teenager sort of way. Mando Diao is in a good place to finally bring rock and roll back to the cultural apex it once reached, if they can just shove the damned Strokes out of the way.
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.