Way back in 1970, when Michael Jackson was still shimmying alongside Tito and Jermaine, singing about birds and letters, one Sylvester Stewart was the world’s most batshit crazy music-star. Stewart, known to the world as Sly Stone, was holed up in a Hollywood studio making his definitive creative statement 1971’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, increasingly paranoid of outside pressures from Black Panthers wanting him to go political, and record executives wanting him to finish up the album to capitalize on his growing fame after the surprise success of 1969’s Stand!. Sly, at that time, was known for his errant live performances, where the crowd was lucky if he showed up three hours late, if at all, and for his increased paranoia after finally achieving the fame he had set out for when he began his musical career. When Stone began to dig in and continue spending most of ’70 in his studio, shutting himself off to the world, his record company decided to put out Sly & The Family Stone’s Greatest Hits, as a stopgap between albums, and as a way to finance Sly’s last real opus.
Luckily for Sly’s record company, his greatest hits album did for his career, what Bob Dylan’s first greatest hits album did for his, as in expanded his fan base and made him seem essential. Listening to Greatest Hits, there’s no doubt he was. Sly, in 1970, seemed to foreshadow many separate phases of black music. There’s the beginnings of funk music on tracks like the bluesy “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Fun,” “Sing a Simple Song,” and album highlight “Thank You,” a song highlighted by very heavy drums and bass for the time, and nearly void of guitar at all, that bands varying from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to George Clinton are indebted to.
Sly should also be considered in his role of making R&B the most popular black music in the 1970’s along with the guys who made Motown a powerhouse. If someone had told me that “Stand,” “Life,” “Dance to the Music,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” and “M’Lady” were songs by The Temptations I’d have believed them. Sly could make catchy R&B group music as anyone in Detroit could in their heyday.
Sadly, to this generation Sly and the Family Stone are known as some relic pop group, a group that was cool like No Doubt was ten years ago. Or worse, the group is known for Sly’s erratic behavior and strange appearance at the Grammy’s in 2006, where he sported a white Mohawk. Maybe the repackaging and remastering of his band’s catalog will make Sly into the hero he should be, once and for all.
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.