An ominous feeling hit my gut as I saw the album title. “That’s not how you spell margarine” I thought. Super. I gave a sigh as I opened the puce-colored case and put the disc into my CD player. “I hope I don’t get hate mail for this one too” I think as I press play.
The sound filled my room; it was the noise of a synthetically-mastered drug binge. I sat in shock for a few seconds before the impact set in, then pulled open the CD player. No, it hadn’t been switched with one of my aunt’s new-age relaxation tapes. No mistake had been made; this was Stereolab.
I looked over the case as I casually listened to the first song. A bizarre combination of puce, dirt brown, and traffic-cone orange, it looked as if Van Gogh had lost his lunch on paper. As I turned my attention back to the music, I realized how incredibly hard it was to do so. I couldn’t concentrate on it; my eyes lost focus and I fell into a stupor. It took me a minute to realize that the song had changed. “That can’t be right,” I thought, “this is the same song.” I skipped ahead- the same song. Again and again, same song, same song, same song. Twelve songs, exactly the same.
Where do you go when the world has handed you a pile of shit and the man in charge of brilliant ideas is out of town? To the people! Headphones and my copy ofMargerine Eclipse in tote, I hopped into the station wagon and made my way to Pizza Hut. An hour and a half later, my inventory now included three large, meaty pizzas, and, complaining under my breath about pathetically slow “fast food” service, I floored it to the mall.
Ah, the mall; where the public convenes – every one from overweight middle-agers to vapid preteens to high college students. I set up on a bench outside of the record store and carefully scribbled across one pizza box top “Listen to some music and get some FREE PIZZA!” And I waited, like a shark baiter who’s just poured blood into the water. They could just smell the mega-processed super-saturated goodness. Americans are so easy to manipulate.
The first person to stop was one of the mall’s many blue-haired power-walkers. She gave me a grandmotherly smile and adjusted her horned rimmed glasses as I turned the music loose on her. For a minute I thought she may have been having a stroke, and then she took off the headphones and handed them to me with a tolerant look of confusion.
“What is it, dear?”
“They’re a European pop group,” I reply, “Mostly computer synthesized…”
“Oh,” an interruption, “And how many strings does that have?”
I made a few notes on my clipboard. So much for that generation.
As she power-walked away with a fresh slice of sauce, cheese, and a part of at least six different animals, I was approached by a couple my own age. It was the guy who took the headphones and fit them carefully around liberty spikes and chains connecting piercings. His girl just stared at me through her cat-slit contacts, looking as though she wanted to drink my blood. I rubbed my neck and turned to watch the man’s response. His expression never changed, he simply passed the headphones over to the countess. They shared a look, then each spat at my feet in turn, muttering something that sounded disturbingly like a Celtic curse in my direction. Uh-oh.
I breathed a sigh of relief as young man came out of Abercrombie & Fitch and crossed over to me. By now I was steadily losing pizza, and hope. He made pleasant small talk and took his turn with the headphones.
“Huh” he said shortly. “Are they, erm … are they speaking English?
“Well,” I replied, “No, this song’s in French. Try this.” I skipped ahead to one of the English songs.
His expression became even more pained.
“I don’t get it.”
“I don’t understand them.”
“Oh. Does it matter? They’re speaking the international language of music.”
He shoved the headphones at me.
“I only speak American.”
Well, there you go. Though he, apparently, could bridge the language gap long enough to speak fast food. By now, my pizza was getting cold, the crowd was thinning, and I was getting desperate for something I could use. I leaned against the wall and closed my eyes.
“Pizza?” a little voice said, and I opened my eyes to see a little boy holding the hand of a man that appeared to just have spent a week lost in the desert. “What the hell,” I thought, and I let the kid listen.
“It sounds like an elevator” the kid said, as his little head swung back and forth with the rhythm of the song. I suddenly became more alert. “Hey… it does. That’s exactly how it should be described,” I thought to myself. He handed the headphones back to me, now covered with something sticky from his dirty little hands.
“Let’s go, Daddy,” he said “I don’t like robots. They make bad music.”
I think I need to give little Billy my job.
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.