Sometimes there are albums that you really want to like. You really do. You keep giving it a chance and say, “You know what, the second, third and fourth time this will probably be an awesome album.” Sometimes it is. But No Cities Left is not. You could say that this album is, to use a phrase that is thrown around constantly, “highly anticipated.” Rolling Stone said Montreal’s The Dears are one of the new bands to watch. They missed the mark on this one. The most accurate description of Murray A. Lightburn’s band is ‘drab.’ The stuff is boring. The Smiths heavily influence Lightburn, and the somewhat recent beatification of the Smiths and Morrissey could be one of the reasons for the Dears’ buzz. But the band ends up sounding like a rip-off of the aforementioned artists combined with a rip-off of “Mother”-era Pink Floyd. And neither of the imitations is close enough to sound good.
Lightburn, in addition to writing pretentious epics that fall on their face, describes the album in the liner notes as “Written and Directed by Murry A. Lightburn.” Lightburn needs some direction himself– he can’t decide what type of singer he should be. His low, laid-back voice is as dull as a Thanksgiving parade, and when he tries to scream he sounds like a 16-year-old at a screamo concert desperately trying to sing along; yelling doesn’t suit him. Sometimes he sings a bit higher, louder and with more intensity, but this sounds like it’s out of a Broadway show tune. His falsetto wavers, but is probably the most pleasing. The female vocalist, Natalia Yanchak, is just as dull.
The pretentious quality surfaces when you realize that the swirling music in each attempted epic is supported only by cliché lyrics that take themselves way too seriously. Lines such as “I then arrived 10 minutes early with no smokes and I was broke, with no smoke” (cue saxophone interlude with “la la la”s) and “It’s me. It’s you. It’s me. It’s you. It’s me. It’s you” don’t hold up against the music. The repetition of the lyrics just makes matters worse. “It won’t ever be what we want,” 10 times in a row (very slowly), is not poignant enough to carry itself through repetition. Neither is “Never destroy us” 9 times in a row. And the music isn’t interesting enough to pick up the slack.
However, the instrumental sections are probably the best parts on the album, especially on “Warm and Sunny Days.” No one can say The Dears don’t know how to play their instruments. The problem is that it doesn’t necessarily make for good music. Almost every song attempts to build to a crescendo (or crescendos), but the end result of the build-up is never satisfying. It’s more like tartar build-up. Or that film on your car windshield that keeps getting worse every time you try to smear it with your hand, but you keep smearing it anyway. Tartar + car film = No Cities Left.
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.