Subject: Spoon Review (?)
You don’t know me, but my roommate writes for your ‘zine. He has been under a lot of stress lately, and I think it was this last review (a Spoon album?) that drove him over the edge. When I found him a week ago, he was passed out in front of his computer, locked inside our room without nourishment or sunlight presumably for a number of days. He had several empty wine bottles by his side, and was drooling into empty Sun Chips bags. When I woke him up, he appeared startled and starting ranting about “the aural complexity of early-era NOFX,” before he stumbled out. I haven’t seen him in 4 days. This is what was written on his computer-
Gimme Fiction intro write-up 1
In a recent article in the normally brilliant Paste Magazine, writer Bud Scoppa says that Spoon is a band that incorporates everything “he [sic] loves about music, from The Beatles to Marvin Gaye.” The rest of the article is extremely well written, and contains a concise and informative band history, but it was this once thought that stuck with me and vexed me to no end. The Beatles managed to make chaotic and furious tracks like “Helter Skelter” sound almost playful, and should not be mentioned in the same conversation as the calculated, often cold songs that Spoon turn out. And Marvin Gaye, whose soulful, expressive voice exuded such warmth and emotion is miles away from the rhythmic, limited delivery that singer Britt Daniel is capable of. Sure, there are tracks on Gimme Fiction where the band sounds playful, such as the brilliant “Sister Jack”, and others where Daniel’s vocals are expressive and unexpectedly strong, such as the falsetto funk, “I Turn My Camera On” or the foreboding “My Mathematical Mind,” but … well … there are others … crap, let’s start over…
Gimme Fiction intro write-up 2
That’s the problem with hearing the demos of an album’s tracks; when you hear the final version, the rough spontaneity of the original has been sanded into a mid album lull. Such is the case with both “Sister Jack” and “I Summon You” which appeared on the Spoon website a few months prior to Gimme Fiction’s May release. The former, while still energetic in its album version, was explosive in demo form, showing an exciting counterpoint to the normally carefully crafted Spoon I was used to. “I Summon You,” on the other hand, appears in the exact same form, except for an unnecessary and cluttered drumbeat, done by expert skinsman Brian Eno… where could I go from here?
Gimme Fiction intro write-up 3
I always knew Spoon were depressed, but this is a new low. There is only one example of the upbeat pop such as “The Way We Get By,” or “Take The Fifth” that scattered their last two releases offering breaks from the melancholy mood. “Sister Jack,” which appears halfway through the album offers a burst of energy and melody. The rest of the tracks are measured, with loud melancholy bass lines. Even lyrically … wait … actually … the lyrics are surprisingly obtuse and not really too dour…let’s see here- Daniel convincingly pens songs about his love for music in opener “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” and “I Summon You.” “I Turn My Camera On” is about a relationship … maybe (“You made me untouchable for life, and you wasn’t polite.” …wait …what?!@?) “The Infinite Pet” is … about magical dancing spirits … maybe (the chorus is “the infinite pet comes when you pirouette.” My god, not even Malkmus could get away with a line like that). God, I’ve digressed…
Gimme Fiction intro write-up 4
Spoon is a band, is many ways, comprised entirely of a rhythm section. Brian Eno, the band’s drummer, producer and only other permanent member is just as much as part of the band’s sound as singer-guitarist-bassist-pianist Britt Daniel. Up until this point, Spoon’s songs have usually been comprised of selected elements (“Stay Don’t Go” was keyboard and voice, “Take the Fifth,” drums, bass and vocals), and never came together sounding like a rock band, usually due to the lack of guitar and the drum and bass-centered production. On Gimme Fiction, the band’s new album, the songs are louder and more complete, and in many ways more traditional than those on their past albums. However, as Daniel was playing most of the melodic instruments, much of the album consists of very distinct overdubs, giving each instrument its own voice and volume; at the expense of unity …you killed the momentum, Gabe. Why can’t you just write something straightforward and simple? DO YOU LIKE IT OR NOT? WHY? THAT’S ALL YOU NEED.
Gimme Fiction write-up 5
OK. I can’t deal with this anymore. I can’t deal with trying to describe what Spoon sound like to friends (the best I can do is, “They’re like Interpol, but without all the droning, and from Texas,” at which point most people stare blankly). I can deal with the oblique lyrics, the total lack of guitar in a ROCK BAND. I need something simple, something concrete, and Gimme Fiction is not it. It is at once their hardest rocking album since “A Series of Sneaks” and yet also their most calculated effort, with their usually isolated sounding production. It is at once lyrically compelling and off-puttingly nonsensical. It rocks, sulks, drones (I still can’t get through the albums last two tracks, “They Never Got You” which sounds a little too much like The Strokes’ “Last Nite” for my own taste, and “Merchants of Soul” which goes nowhere). Yet still, somehow, in words I don’t think I can form at this point, I can guarantee that this will be one of this year’s most gripping and challenging rock releases. It isn’t an example of Spoon in a slump. It isn’t transitional. It isn’t a radical departure, nor is it stagnant. It’s a rock record, one with few frills and even fewer promises or pretexts. Sometimes, that’s all that needs to be said.
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.