The latest indie band to be sucked into MTV’s buzzworthy bin has been a constant staple in my record collection for quite some time. Despite popular opinion, Modest Mouse’s career did not begin with “Float On;” in fact, the video for that song is the first video the band has ever made. Nowadays you can turn on your local radio station and hear “Float On” played every five minutes, tune in to MTV and see their video, and then watch them play on Letterman. Modest Mouse is in the middle of their fifteen minutes of mainstream fame, the question one has to ask is whether or not their music will still maintain the same unbridled insanity and originality that drew most of their longtime fans to them in the first place, or if this album will be the soundtrack to the Modest Mouse sellout story.
A minute after receiving Good News For People Who Bad News, I popped it into my CD player and was overjoyed to hear something I never thought I’d hear on a rock record; horns, lots and lots of horns. The flourish of horns that begin this release is brought to you by The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, a modern day jazz band that continues to amaze with each of their releases. The simple use of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band presents Modest Mouse as not just another indie band breaking into the mainstream, but as an indie band maintaining their roots while thrusting themselves forward into the unknown of popular success. The second track on the disc is less in your face as the “Horn Intro” was; it’s more laid back, showcasing Brock’s subdued yet otherwise manic vocals. “The World At Large” portrays a scene of starting over. The lyrics tell of a person’s journey to escape the world that they’ve come to know and to travel into something new despite thoughts that “…starting over is not what life’s about.” Bouncy backing vocals combined with the simplistic yet charming music makes this track into a seemingly pleasant and slow beginning to an album that is filled with thunderous vocals and pounding, pulsating music.
“The Devil’s Workday,” “Satin In A Coffin,” and “The Good Times Are Killing Me” seem to stick out as the release’s most intriguing songs. “The Devil’s Workday” showcases Brock and his banjo accompanied by the horns of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The song starts out with what began the disc, “The Horn Intro,” then with a low chuckle from Brock the banjo kicks in and the squealing horns add a sense of evil to this wicked track. Brock’s voice is this rage-filled growl that really pushes this song into uncharted terrain. Another song that thrives with Brock’s intricate banjo playing is “Satin In A Coffin.” Starting off with a vibrant banjo hook and Tom “Hackensaw Boys” Pelosi’s dauntingly morose bass line, the song immediately presents the listener with a tune filled with dark lyrics. “Are you dead or are you sleeping? God I sure hope you are dead” sings Brock with a forceful tremble of a voice which gives this track even more of a dour appeal. The constant organ melody of Eric Judy, the skilled guitar work of Dann Gallucci, and the pounding drums of Benjamin Weikel only add to this magnificently intense track. “The Good Times Are Killing Me” has a light breezy tone flowing through it. The lyrics however tell a tale of vices and how these so called “good times are killing me.”
Compared to their other albums, Good News For People Who Love Bad News has an abundance of banjo work which often leads me to describe this album to others as ‘banjo-rific.’ Their latest effort continues the Modest Mouse tradition of being entirely original and true to their musical roots. Surprisingly enough, this may be the album that gives Modest Mouse the boost to stay rooted in mainstream culture despite my own reservations.
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.