If Michelle Branch and Norah Jones had a baby, she would sound just like Maria Mena. The 18 year-old singer/songwriter boasts that catchy song on the radio with all the run-on sentences and poetry-like fast speech. You’ve definitely heard it before. You know… that song? The one with the rapid lyrics? Oh, you know…
Ok, let me clear that up. People may get confused with the voice behind the song, “You’re The Only One,” wondering, “Where have I heard this girl before?” Well actually, unless you’re from Europe or someplace over there, chances are you might not have heard of Maria Mena. But that will soon change.
She’s sure to be a solid hit. Her album, White Turns Blue, contains all catchy tracks, from pop acoustic to soulful ballads, but all heartbreakingly honest. Yeah sure, her sound may be a bit typical to the Michelle Branch kind of crowd, but the words are hers alone. Most all the songs revolve around adolescence and the pains of growing up as well as the exhilaration of love and youth. In “Just a Little Bit,” Mena sings about the insecurities surrounding her as something many girls can relate to.
Not everything is all fluff and fritters however. “Blame It On Me,” about teenage rebellion, speaks of it from her father’s perspective- an interesting spin on the ever-mysterious relations between parents and their brats. “My Lullaby” is a yearning, breathy song to Mena’s mother about her parents’ divorce. Written when she was just 11, it definitely proves her chops as a musician and a singer. “Lose Control” also shows her flexibility as she dabbles into jazzy folk in this playful track. However, a personal favorite of mine is “Sorry.” I find it the most achingly truthful, saddening and emotionally revealing piece I’ve heard in the longest (this from a person who listens to emo) – “And I say, Baby, I feel stupid to call you but I’m lonely / and I don’t think you meant it when you said you couldn’t love me / and I thought maybe if I kissed the way you do you’d feel it too.” Her vocals have a bittersweet twang that you can picture her mouth forming within your mind from the clear sound that reverberates from the speakers.
This I surely recommend to anyone who enjoys folksy, acoustic pop. And to anyone who appreciates musical honesty. This girl is quite obviously talented, and however catchy and possibly annoying you may find her first single (“You’re The Only One”), believe me, her other stuff is much different and most definitely not annoying. But I can’t make any promises that they won’t get stuck in your head.
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.