For those who knew early 2000s indie rock band The Rocking Horse Winner, will know that they were one of the great underrated bands of that era. While bigger names took the emo infused indie spotlight, The Rocking Horse Winner quietly perfected their brand of mostly mid-tempo indie powered by distorted guitars and Jolie Lindholm’s captivating voice. All these years later and songs like “Miss You” and “When Songbirds Sing” hold up. Fast forward and we have Lindholm’s latest musical offering, The Darling Fire, a group comprised of Lindholm and luminaries of noted bands of that time- Further Seems Forever, Shai Hulud(!), as well as fellow members of The Rocking Horse Winner.
No surprise perhaps, that what grabs you immediately when listening to Dark Celebration is Lindholm’s voice once again. It’s still got that aura, that mystique that is both as beautiful as a songbird but laced with a darker, more ominous note. From the opening “For the Loveless” to the slower, more gradual “Omaha”, her voice soars above the music without it becoming operatic. Musically, what’s most grabbing about The Darling Fire, is their ability to craft big sounding songs that takes cues from Further Seems Forever’s Jon Bunch era. Perhaps the album that comes closest to exemplifying Dark Celebration’s resonance is FSF’s terrific 2004 record Hide Nothing. If you’re familiar with Hide Nothing then you’ll get the tone of Dark Celebration.
Sonically, Dark Celebration is a dense record; the guitars sound thick and fuzzed out. And they take a more gradual approach to finding melodies- all resulting in this very raw, Steve Albini-like produced record (Editor’s note: I had this written down before I found out the record was actually produced by J. Robbins- hence the sound). It’s all coupled nicely with the pounding percussion work best exemplified in the aforementioned “Omaha” and the closing “In Twilight”. The slowness to the record is more a sign of patience than anything else; while music today seems to be eager to find the hook, the apex- The Darling Fire takes a more composed approach. Those with short attention spans, especially when it comes to music, should probably search elsewhere. But for those who find beauty in patience, will find a genuinely rewarding listen. The patience results in a record that yearns for repeated listens because you will discover new layers, new textures to their songs with each listen. The album hits hard when it rocks, but is delicate when it needs to be; see “Saints in Masquerade”, “The Constant”, and the beautiful “Silver Spider”.
It’s fantastic to hear that the spirit of The Rocking Horse Winner lives on. The Darling Fire is a new band yes, but to hear that this sound that made such a big play for ears in the 2000s has found a resurgence is fantastic. Whether you were a fan of Mineral, The Rocking Horse Winner, or those guitar-heavy bands like Jawbox, The Darling Fire is a contemporary exploration of a sound that thankfully, has transcended through the decades. And it still sounds great.
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.
Pine – Pine
Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia
Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.
Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.
The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.
For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.