Heralding from San Francisco, California, Matt Nathanson is one of those musicians you just can’t help but love, and respect. He’s been releasing good album after good album for years now; gaining a fan or two here, and a fan or two there, along the way. The fruit of his unscrupulous labors paid off about two albums ago, when he was picked up by Universal for the release of his major label debut Beneath These Fireworks. That disc was stellar in it’s own right, taking the route many songwriters do by combining a few of his better songs from past releases, and rerecording them, and peppering them in with some great new tunes. When it was released, I labeled Beneath These Fireworks Nathanson’s career defining album. At the time, I didn’t think he could get any better.
Luckily, I was wrong.
Flash forward a few years, with an insatiably delicious live album tossed in for good measure to fill the void, and we’ve found the present, and with it the release of Nathanson’s latest masterpiece: Some Mad Hope. Never has he made an album as complete as Hope. He touched at this type of cohesiveness with Fireworks, but looking back at it in comparison to this it’s easy to see that he still had a small ways to go. Some Mad Hope is like the great records of yore that just mesh and live together—so much so that it’d be easy to imagine that one song almost couldn’t exist at all without the others by it’s side; to give it context, and to give it depth.
The first single from the disc is the album opener “Car Crash,” and I couldn’t think of a better introduction to Nathanson’s signature full-band, singer-songwriter brand of tuneage. Things really pick up with the song-song “Come On Get Higher,” which employs an old gospel vibe in the chorus that will stick in your head for years to come. To continue on to my favorite diamond in the diamond bag, “Bulletproof Weeks” is one of the greatest songs Nathanson has ever written—period. Poignant closer “All We Are” ends the trip perfectly with the golden line, “Everyday is the start of something beautiful, beautiful.”
Indeed it is Matt, indeed it is.
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.