Chicago skate punk outfit Much the Same reunited after an 8-year hiatus in 2015, and while the landscape of skate punk has dramatically changed since their initial run in the mid-2000s, the band have found consistency with sticking to what they do best. And what they do best is up-tempo, melodicore that they cut their teeth with on their earliest releases. Now four years after their reformation, their first full length since 2006’s Survive finds them treading on familiar territory. Initially, that may sound like a negative, but as you listen to Everything is Fine, you find that their brand of up-tempo punk remains as fresh and energizing as it was during their initial run.
Much the Same released a terrific Lagwagon cover in 2018- a cover of one of my favorite Lagwagon songs “Making Friends”. The original is a mid-tempo, fuzzed-out grungy song, but Much the Same paint their version with blazing speed, forgoing the slower pace for the kind of skate punk melodics they’re known for. It’s the Much the Same M.O. and Everything is Fine is exactly that. What is immediate is the production quality of the record; it’s got a crisp, full sound that adds texture to the record; a vast improvement to the recordings of their earlier work. That work continues the quality they showed from their Lagwagon cover, showcasing their love for melody, machine-gun percussions, soaring vocals, and some great guitar work. Much the Same love their guitar solos, and in a world bereft of them, it’s fantastic to hear them rip through plenty- from the roaring opener “Burner”, to the wistful sounding “Man Of Science Man Of Faith”.
What makes Everything is Fine a rewarding listen is the record’s pressing attitude towards melodic punk. They’ve taken cues from mid 90s heavyweights like Millencolin and No Use for a Name, while occasionally taking the melancholic route to songs about despair and uncertainty. Songs like “Homecoming” have a certain weightlessness to them, even when they sing of heavy introspection; “Cause you can’t walk away from those things flowing through your veins / So sail away, straight in the grey / Failure’s where best lessons have been taught“. It’s this ability to sing and talk about life’s heavy burdens without it being a burden to listen to that makes much of the album connect. Unlike bands like The Wonder Years and their ilk, Much the Same have been through the same trenches, but fill their records with a hopefulness- no matter how transient it is.
The record closes with the terrific “Passengers”. It’s an unforgettable closing, a little Swellers-esque, but distinctly Much the Same, and a perfect bow to an already great outing. Everything is Fine is a record that holds its own against the best of what No Use For a Name and The Swellers did, and through repeated listens you’ll be able to find just rewards. While Much the Same were cut from a mold seemingly long gone, they are proof that it is by no means forgotten.
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.
Pine – Pine
Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia
Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.
Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.
The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.
For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.