Taylor Swift’s new single, Me!, dropped a few weeks ago and despite being a big Taylor fan I have to admit I don’t really like it. In fact, I couldn’t even get through it on my first listen.
However, one of my favorite podcasts, Switched on Pop, featured it recently so I thought maybe I’d give it a second chance. After all, Nate and Charlie have successfully changed my mind about other pop songs I’ve
hated disliked, including the last Taylor Swift album Reputation. As usual, their podcast lived up to my expectation, breaking down some of the lyrical and musical choices that go into the song and highlighting aspects that I might have missed (had I bothered to listen to the song in full the first time).
But you know what? I still don’t like this song.
Yes, it has a lot of the sounds I would associate with a Taylor Swift tune: a danceable beat, some very identifiable Taylor riffs, and a potentially ‘after-school special’ takeaway message about embracing your uniqueness.
Unfortunately, musically it doesn’t really have much to say. To me, it feels like a generic Taylor Swift song without the magic she often brings, and with the most incredibly cheesy bridge I’ve ever heard outside of a movie soundtrack. In fact, when I first heard this song I assumed that it was from a children’s movie soundtrack. Had I missed a new Minions movie?!? Nope.
Which is a real shame. Taylor Swift is known for reinventing herself and coming up with an exciting new sound on each of her recent albums (1989, Reputation), one that somehow still contains key elements of the Taylor her fans know and love. But this time her first single does not signal any exciting departure from the last album. It sounds like Taylor just put together all of her hit-making signature sounds, added in a few musical references to Brendon Urie’s Panic at the Disco sound, and sung it to some generic ‘love yourself’ lyrics.
This would be bad enough, but then I made the mistake of watching the music video for “Me!”. Where clever musicological analysis had brought me around to a grudging acceptance of the song, this video had me doing an abrupt 180 and running for the hills. The surrealistic pastel backdrop combined with the over the top musical dance numbers reminds me of Dr. Seuss’ book Oh, the places you’ll go, and tipped what was already a sickly sweet bubblegum pop song over the line into ridiculous. Rather than play down the sugary song the video doubles down on it, emphasizing all the things I dislike about the song and playing up the saccharine.
Despite a widely panned start, it’s still possible that the full album will be just as awesome and groundbreaking as the last two have been. But I sure wish Taylor had chosen to launch it with something that sounded less like the musical equivalent of an inspirational poster in a high school guidance counselor’s office.
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.