Hey kids, I am sure there are many of you who don’t know who Syd Barrett was. Since his prime creative years are long past, you may not be aware that for a short period of time, he reigned as one of the great psychedelic songwriters of rock and roll antiquity. Whether it is better to burn out rather than fade away is a matter of personal choice; but Syd didn’t really do either. He simply fried his cranial endowments after taking one too many doses of Lysergic acid diethylamide or as the San Francisco hipsters called it, LSD. In spite of his eccentric behavior and erratic output, Syd was the original songwriter for Pink Floyd and left the world with a remarkable body of work.
When I’m headed home from a nocturnal excursion, nothing pleases my ears more than popping on some late 1960’s psychedelic rock by the likes of the Doors, Grateful Dead, HP Lovecraft and the Jefferson Airplane. Though I don’t partake on drugs or heavy drinking, listening to this music at 2:00 PM gives me a contact high. An Introduction to Syd Barrett, a new release of Barrett’s work is perfect for those late night rides. It provides the listener with a well rounded collection his writing with early Pink Floyd as well as his solo material. The compilation was supposedly supervised by David Gilmour and the remixes offer high quality sound.
Barrett’s brand of groovy, atmospheric material evokes images of riding a merry-go-round at a Brighton amusement park and that’s even without taking LSD. Just pop on opening track “Arnold Layne” and you’ll immediately get what I mean. The song, originally released in 1967, has a cheesy cool, Farfisa organ sound, British art school lyrics and appropriately staccato textures. “See Emily Play” treads similar territory but far more brilliantly. While maintaining timeless aesthetic aplomb, it has a beautifully catchy verse and chorus melody that offers this twisted lyrical nursery rhyme:
“Put on a gown that touches the ground, ah ooh / Float down a river forever and ever, Emily, Emily / There is no other day / Let’s try it another way / You’ll lose your mind and play / Free games for May / See Emily play”
Pink Floyd’s “Matilda Mother” seems to have been inspired by a child’s recollection of his mother imparting fairy tales about a king’s and his misty riders…or it could have just been the LSD talking. Either way, the results are interesting and reminded me of some Arthur Lee and Love’s work on Forever Changes—same period, same substances ingested.
One of the gems of this collection is “Bike”, which was originally featured on Pink Floyd’s Pipers at the Gates of Dawn, released in 1967. It’s sort of like what a schizophrenic might have written after listening to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, while concurrently ceasing his intake of medication. But it’s also an unconventional love song that is creatively arranged, strangely accessible and has a Cacophony at the end that borders on unsettling. Some of Syd’s solo work gets a bit dicey in the area of coherence; but one of the better songs is “Baby Lemonade”. The lyrics seem like they could have been written by Thomas Pynchon after a psychotic break yet the track itself is relaxed and melodic.
Perhaps Syd didn’t enjoy being a rock star. When the pressure to write more hit songs was dialed up, he indulged in substance abuse and began to check out of society. This caused Pink Floyd to retool and sally forth in another direction for which the end result turned out pretty well. Barrett was certainly a catalyst for them; and not unlike Brian Wilson is an artist whose brief but sterling period of enormous creativity can now be appreciated by a fresh generation of fans.
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.