I must admit, I do come to this review with a slight bias on my part. I’ve been a fan of the Canadian rock outfit Our Lady Peace since the days of their first album, Naveed. The first time I heard lead U.S. single “Starseed” tearing up the airwaves on the little corner stereo in my room, way back in the mid-early 90’s, I knew this was the kind of music I was destined to listen to. Following it up with the hugely successful sophomore effort Clumsy, Our Lady Peace only acted to cement their place in my heart as one of my favorite bands. “Superman’s Dead,” and title track “Clumsy” practically ruled alternative radio. Ohh, those were the days.
The late 90’s found the band leaning more toward an underground experimental pop-edge with Happiness Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch. (I must admit, I have a promotional poster from a European date promoting this album hanging in the den of my apartment. Go ahead—mock me.) Barely a year after Happiness hit shelves, OLP made they way back into the mainstream with their early 00’s record Spiritual Machines. Anchored by hit singles “Life,” and “Right Behind You (Mafia),” this scientifically hypothetical inspired record pushed toward the art-rock side of the spectrum.
On their follow-up to Spiritual Machines, co-founding guitarist Mike Turner left the band. Also, through the split, the decision was made to abandon long time producer Arnold Lanni for Bob Rock (Metallica … uggh). After some grueling auditions, guitarist Steve Mazur eventually found himself permanently in the line-up. Sadly, the quality of the album they were working on during this time, eventually dubbed Gravity, suffered somewhat due to the strains. The lyrics were fairly sophomoric, and the production was far too polished for their raw sound.
And it is here, now fully caught up with the present, that we take a look at Our Lady Peace’s latest effort: Healthy in Paranoid Times. It is almost impossible to review this album without mentioning lead singer Raine Maida’s extensive work with the peace organization War Child. Over the last few years, Maida has landed himself in the dead running to become the next Bono; making extensive trips into third world countries to help those who are suffering, and becoming an outspoken activist among today’s musicians.
It is quite noticeable that Maida’s philosophical and social views come full circle on this record. Deeply motivated by today’s social climate, Our Lady Peace finds a smooth balance between enjoyable music, and deep-thinking lyrics. This is surely one of the most mature albums that the group has made to date; and stands quite strongly in the post-American Idiot world of politically-minded rock records. The album opens with the punchy “Angels/Losing/Sleep,” and is represented on the airwaves by jaunty first single “Where Are You.” Highlights include the darkly played track “Wipe That Smile Off Your Face,” U2-tinged “Boy,” and the gorgeous, subdued album closer “Al Genina (Leave A Light On).” Sung with such passion, and child-like hope (choked with cynicism); it is truly a gorgeous tune.
In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I do highly recommend this record. Obviously, I come at this with a slight bias. But hey, isn’t bias (and opposable thumbs) what makes us human? Having had my hopes dashed by a flailing last effort (Gravity) does truly make me all the more cautious when looking at this one. But trust me, Healthy is really a solid record. I left my ‘fanboy’ cred at the door of numerous message boards a long time ago. The songwriting found here is mature, the song structures are catchy, and the material is just unbeatable. You should definitely check this one out.
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.