One of the most rewarding aspects of following an artist’s career from its maiden days is the incredible realization of his or her sound in full development. Like flowers in bloom, there is a great sense of joy in the beauty accomplished. Former Envelope member Paul Brill was never far from reaching his musical apex, a solo career that displayed immense talent in not only musical composition itself; but for the displayed end results, the songs themselves, that never asked to be more than music he loved to write and play. I’ve been fortunate enough to have known of Brill since his first solo effort, looking in from the outside as he grew and tangled with what ultimately led to New Pagan Love Song; his most complete set of compositions to date. And it isn’t so much that Brill has written songs that cut away foundations cast before him, nor material that will send writers and listeners to the kind of frenzy reserved for front cover exposure- Brill seems to have never coveted that kind of light- but rather the kind of music that becomes important to listeners.
This in a sense has become a great downfall to many artists- they can become famous or popular; but never really for any reasons we can honestly and intrinsically say is due 100% to the music itself. Brill for one is never empty or transparent. Beginning with Halve the Light, an album which I humbly labeled “the essence of America, soft-spoken country folk laced with the acerbic tongue of indie rock,” his music always filled the atmosphere it penetrated. No matter how exclusively simple the track, or how oppositely grandiose, listeners were never left cheated. Blessed with a kind of forthrightness, Brill turned to a more pastel type of landscape with his Sisters EP; stripping away the many musicians that had previously accompanied him for the bare necessities, before once again surrounding himself with the proper supplementary layers on the full length that followed. New Pagan Love Song is the completed extension to that LP, taking what he had done and polishing them off with what can be best described as ongoing refinement.
As we’ve previously seen, Brill is never afraid to grow out of his “post-country” roots. Now he can sound a little like Grandaddy (in the nimble “Desert Song”), a little like The High Llamas (the lounging “Weekday Bender”), while never being anyone but Paul Brill. The perfect example to his moving forward while remaining true to his musical lineage is the opening track “Trindade;” a beautiful coming together of his prairie-like visuals with the systematic numbers of The Notwist. When he goes distinctly folk/country in “The Troubled Life of Herschel Grimes,” Brill once again taps some of the rootsy disposition he first unearthed with Halve the Light, only this time he has injected the hillbilly ruckus with the kind of cool Earl down on the farm never had.
Some artists prefer to be loud. They like the attention and they like the noise that follows. In “Lay Down Your Weary Head” Brill sings “it’s better to be quiet than misunderstood,” and in a way he makes a great deal of sense because a lot of what he sings about can often go silently into the night. Without causing great commotion, he sings about the blues, he sings about loving your enemies, he sings about the falling leaves of a distant season, and the reasons why we should be thankful for it all. Teeming with musical tradition and simplistic, understated beauty, Brill has once again reached a plateau known to only some. And we are all but weary explorers shouting “eureka!” at the foot of great discovery.
(Scarlet Shame Records)
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.