For a brief time in the mid-90s, Bay Area ska-core band Link 80 were on the cusp of becoming one of the preeminent bands of the genre. While ska-punk was about to break into the mainstream with its blend of more accessible punk/pop with ska, ska-core eschewed the more radio-friendly tones of Less than Jake, Reel Big Fish, and the Bosstones for hardcore’s more aggressive, in-your-face sound. It proved to be fertile ground as bands like Link 80, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Against All Authority, and the underrated Assorted Jellybeans showed what the less glossy side of ska-punk was like- and while bands like The Suicide Machines did break it big, Link 80 seemed to find a perfect place just below the surface. The untimely death of lead singer Nick Traina seemed to derail the band’s momentum, even though they continued on to release an album without him. His enigmatic voice and personality was one of the most magnetic qualities of the band.
Omnigone, featuring former Link 80 member Adam Davis (who was part of the band’s later incarnation without Traina), is a new Bay Area ska-core band that continues the legacy of Link 80; not just the band, but a genre that a generation ago, was on a meteoric rise that saw is light extinguished far too soon. Their debut album No Faith takes cues from ska-core’s aggressive tone of relentless guitars and percussion work that’s punctuated by equally aggressive vocals. It follows Link 80’s musical lineage but doesn’t shy away from ska’s more traditional tones, sounding at times like Mu330 and Mustard Plug.
“BTC” is an up-tempo hardcore opener that underlines the album’s urgent nature. While more traditional ska-punk sounding tunes like “Horizontal Aggression” and the horn-section backed “Stitch In Time” paints a familiar, but very welcome sound. The very two-tone “Rather Be Alone” is a fantastic moment of the album; showcasing Omnigone’s multi-faceted appreciation of ska and its roots. No Faith does a great job of blending in ska’s more accessible, laid back approach with hardcore’s discord- exemplified in songs like “Obituary” and the title track. “Obituary” in particular, does the mixture of raw and composed really well.
What’s most appealing about No Faith is perhaps the album’s ability to be aggressive sounding (vocally and musically) while at the same time not sounding like it was recorded in a shack on a tape recorder. It’s not overly polished sure, but its less than perfect sound means it sounds genuine and unfussed by the glossy demeanor of say, a Reel Big Fish record.
If you miss the sounds of ska-punk’s more in-your-face attitude then Omnigone’s debut record should be right up your alley. It’s raw, passionate, and capable of reminding you of days past while showcasing a promising vision for tomorrow. What else is there to say but “pickitup, pickitup, pickitup!”
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.