There are some reasons I hate the term “pop punk”. The first being most listeners take out the word “pop” from the equation and think they are hardcore because they listen to New Found Glory (just because they started out “small” doesn’t mean they don’t suck.) Another is because the genre hosts such a wide range that happen to not fit into the subgenres of “emo” or “hardcore” or whatever.
Bands as diverse as Blink-182, The Weakerthans, The Reunion Show, and of course Samiam all get lumped into 1 category (or so judgest this matter the supreme music gods of online retailers.) The great thing about Samiam and the shitty thing about the term “pop-punk” is that you could play the CD to fans of Blink, or Sum, and they would hate it. They would call it no fun (due to Samiam’s light use of profanity and lack of songs about puberty, where they lead singer breaks out into an MC job, and the song ends up being used by hot dog companies to promote their extra beefy taste), and just be turned off. Give it to listeners of Bad Religion, and they’d call it emo. Give it to Saves the Day fans, and they say “dude, this isn’t emo!” …and then go off and cry somewhere…
The whole point being that a band like Samiam, who play heavy, emotional beautiful songs with the urgency of the political bands they more than often share bills with, and instrumentation that is simple and yet piercing just can’t get a break.
The album ranges from upbeat driven head-boppers like the opener, “Sunshine”, to moody sludgy tracks that sound like what might happened if Alice in Chains went punk, (“Mud Hill”). Of course, there is a point where each track gets repetitive. And on 2 tracks, “Paraffin”, and “Curbside”, you realize the faults of a band playing with this much enthusiasm and emotion, sometimes you feel downright bad when you can see the effort and it doesn’t work.
These tracks are below average, and boring, But on epics like “Dull,” one of the BEST songs on teenage suicide I’ve ever heard, and the final track, “Why Do We”, the band flowers into emotional climaxes that sent shivers down my spine. On the last song, “Why Do We”, Samiam’s singer Jason Beebout sings to a friends “…if the weight of this all / is too much by,.” Behind the plaintive power chords, the lyrics end up sounding like “If the weight of this song / is too much by now…”
Both work just fine.
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.