Imagine if you will, a happy little Chicago family; punk father, hardcore mother, and big brothers like Pennywise, Braid, and Bad Religion. This is where the little half-breed band Rise Against was born. This halfling is an example of musical evolution at its best, the infusion of some of the best aspects of two contrasting genres. From their dad they received a need to rebel, a social awareness, and a hardcore cutthroat basis for their sound. From their mother, they learned ways to cut out the melodic monotony so common in hardcore bands, and poetic, significant lyricism. Growing up in the late 90’s wasn’t easy for a little band in a big marketplace; luckily for Rise Against, they saw through the current fad of musical negativism and sought to bring a more positive feeling to their music, letting the world know that rebellion and depth don’t have to go hand in hand with despair, and defeating emo’s fault of simple, self-centered blind sadness. Don’t be fooled, however, although emo-ism is kept at a safe level throughout many of the songs, Rise Against have given us a fair number of relationship-centered/fairly tragic songs.
Now, seven years after its creation, Rise Against have released their fourth album, The Sufferer & The Witness. In the time they’ve been together, the band have matured nicely in terms of genuine musical ability and creativity. This, along with the novelty they present in sound and ideas, has earned the band a place at Geffen Records, on the Billboard charts, in the movie Lords of Dogtown, and in the CD collections of a generously growing fan base. Their most recently written album, Siren Song of the Counter Culture (Geffen, 2004), was responsible for three Billboard standing songs. It is a compilation of songs of society and relationships, ranging from nearly pure punk to almost emo, and everything in between. The Sufferer & The Witness follows the same line.
The album’s first single, “Ready to Fall,” is almost depressingly decent. As the band’s first single written and produced under Geffen, it follows the pattern of many of today’s songs singled out as representations of the entire album, and is little more than a tainted and conformed version of what the music was meant to be about. In the case of “Ready to Fall,” it’s one of the most emo, self centered, lyrically immature songs of the album. Even the guitar work is so dull and commonplace that this song could have no place except perhaps on MTV and radio stations that a call themselves “the WAVE.” As a background song on the CD, it is tolerable, almost enjoyable; as the pushed feature, however, it’s just not up to par.
This is a shame, because there are several truly good songs on this album. The crown comes close to the end with “The Good Left Undone,” a piece which successfully uses the band’s talents for both hardcore and melodic form of punk, and shows off the surprising versatility of vocalist Tim McIlrath’s scratchy voice with a mixture of non-grating but forceful screams and softer verses. Just before this song is “Roadside,” a slow, almost experimental piece with beautiful string and female vocal accompaniment. Almost too slow for any kind of general public recognition, it hits the listener like finding a twenty in a comfortable new pair of pants. Songs like “Bricks” and “Chamber the Cartridge” are enough to give us old Pennywise fans nostalgia, and others such as “Injection” and “Prayer of the Refugee” hit hard but leave an impression more simply than having been shaken. Few albums are perfect, however. Rise Against, in The Sufferer & The Witness at least, manage for the most part to maintain a strength in each song which contrast the weaker parts; for example, strong verses to divert attention from a mediocre chorus, excellent guitar work where vocals lack, superior vocals delivering trite lyrics. Because of this, the listener can walk away with a good feeling from any song.
On a whole, The Sufferer & The Witness is strong, hard hitting, and original. With a surprising mix of beauty, rebellion, and a hardcore attitude, it’s bound to make fans proud.
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.