Summer 1985. The first wave of punk has long since burned out into a pitiful malaise of nihilism and drugs. Its successor- the American hardcore scene- once a shining beacon of DIY work ethic and righteous anger had been overrun by muscleheaded thugs more interested in brawling than jamming. Where to for those still wanting to be a part of something greater? Something pure and something heartfelt? This was the question the musicians of Washington D.C in 1985 had to confront. Their response? Cast aside everything that came before and rebuild. The summer of 1985 was to be the Revolution Summer- everyone was to form new bands and create a new scene, free of numbskulls. Despite its noble intentions, the Revolution Summer and its acts quickly died out after a year, yet within that short time it planted the seeds for the future direction of punk and indie rock. One of those bands to flourish during the Revolution Summer was Rites of Spring.
A four piece fronted by singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto and drummer Brendan Canty, both of whom would soon go on to join Ian Mackaye in the seminal Fugazi, Rites of Spring only played 15 shows and released one album over a two year period. By those figures it would be easy to dismiss Rites of Spring as merely the band Picciotto and Canty played around in before they struck gold in Fugazi. But such an assessment is terribly shallow- Rites of Spring were a great band in their own right. Their body of work would become the template for future post-hardcore bands as well as emo acts. Rites of Spring are often acknowledged as the first “emo” band.
“I’ve never recognized ‘emo’ as a genre of music. I always thought it was the most retarded term ever…”Guy Picciotto, Rites of Spring
Ironically Picciotto hated the term “emo”- “I’ve never recognized ‘emo’ as a genre of music. I always thought it was the most retarded term ever. I know there is this generic commonplace that every band that gets labeled with that term hates it. They feel scandalized by it. But honestly, I just thought that all the bands I played in were punk rock bands. The reason I think it’s so stupid is that – what, like the Bad Brains weren’t emotional? What – they were robots or something? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Rites of Spring and the other bands of the Revolution Summer were the next step in punk’s evolution. The kids that grown up thrashing their instruments in hardcore bands had now developed into talanted musicians and had grown tired of the genre’s strict boundaries and restraints. Rites of Spring were one of the first bands to loosen the chains of hardcore and challenge what a punk band could sound like. The speed and intensity of punk remained but it was combined with melody and introspective lyrics that didn’t just unleash streams of vitriol. Essentially it was punk but with greater emphasis on songwriting.
“I woke up this morning with a piece of past caught in my throat / And then I choked”
Guy Picciotto’s shrill yet captivating voice dominates this track as he laments a painful break up. Picciotto seems on the brink of total collapse and despite the dark nature of his words there remains a glimmer of hope in his delivery. The upbeat guitar and the pace of the track prevents the song from sinking into a mire of tiresome self-loathing and angst. Instead “For Want Of” becomes a song of rare beauty. Yes, it’s about the fallout of a failed relationship and yes it’s dark, however it maintains a passion and sincerity that’s inspiring. It’ll remind you that although this relationship ultimately hit the skids, in the long run the good times will outweigh the bad and that hope endures.
Rites of Spring’s sole studio album, Rites of Spring, was released in June of 1985 on Dischord Records. You can purchase a digital copy of the 1991 compilation edition, combining both the album Rites of Spring and the EP All Through a Life, via Dischord.
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.