The Format’s latest full-length, Dog Problems, came to me in quite an unusual way. Upon tearing the shipping envelope, a thick, near-tome of stapled papers tumbled off of my table, and into the floor at my feet. I was more than intrigued, so I started on it. Turns out the tome of paper was actually a letter penned by Format lead singer Nate Ruess that chronicles the near-defeating travails of getting Dog Problems made. It’s written in that intimate, unpretentious way you would write in your journal, or in an e-mail to a close friend. It’s fluid, it’s honest; and most importantly it’s real. It’s even been posted on Nate’s LiveJournal. It’s easy to see that it isn’t some sort of gimmick to try and garner some ‘indie cred’ or the like; it’s just a guy extremely ecstatic that he finally got to make the album that he wanted to; and is even more ecstatic that you actually want to listen to it. I’ve never met Nate Ruess; but darn do I like him.
Before getting my hands on Dog Problems, I was already fairly familiar with The Format. I had caught them a year or so ago on an opening bill; and liked them enough to pick up a copy of their flawed but more than enjoyable major label debut, Interventions and Lullabies. I had lost touch of them until recently, when I heard rumbles that they were working on a new record. After reading the letter, and the great adversity they received from their label Elektra to release it (the label didn’t-they eventually dropped the band); I knew that The Format had some songs that they wanted very much to be heard. The question that remained, though, was if the music was actually worth being heard? After all the heartbreak, the pain, and anguish to get this album made; was it really worth it?
The answer my friends, is yes. Yes, it is. Dog Problems is one of the best gems of indie-pop rock to ever be recorded. It’s a collection of driving, happy sing-alongs that you can’t help but fall in love with on the first listen. It’s a masterpiece from a band that, judging from their debut, you wouldn’t think capable of making a record that is this darn good. Their debut was promising, but Dog Problems makes good on that promise, and in spades. Every song oozes perfection and catchiness, but never in that annoying way. This is the type of record you could listen to for nearly ever; and never get tired of it. Look no further than the opening instrumentation of “Matches;” which has that simple, building, childishly innocent sound of a happy Saturday afternoon carnival to know full well that this isn’t the same band that made a splash back in late 2003 with the simple, catchy “The First Single (You Know Me).” This is a new band. This is a more mature band.
Dog Problems is the work of a couple of hard-working guys who have been through far more grief than they deserve. And, throughout it all, they kept resoundingly positive. This album is one of the most jovial I’ve ever heard. Heck; the tunes here make sugary hipsters The Thrills sound downright depressing. From the ridiculously awesome “Time Bomb,” to the bouncing, loose beat of the song you can’t help but sing-along to: “She Doesn’t Get It,” The Format are at not the top, but the epoch, of their game. When, on “Snails,” Nate sings: “Snails see the benefits / The beauty in every inch / Oh, why, why why why oh why / You’re quick to kiss / Baby, maybe, I spoke too soon / I’ll touch you once / You make the first move / Snails see the benefits.” It’s the small things, the simple connections that lead to limitlessly deep songwriting, which The Format has mastered to full hilt here on Dog Problems. This is a collection made up of sing-along tunes, in which, every time you sing along, you seem to find some new faucet of meaning. This is the type of record that many musicians strive their whole careers to make.
To The Format, I have this to say: congratulations, my friends. You’ve created what is sure to be a sleeper hit candidate on plenty of year-end-best lists this year; and deservedly so. Kudos.
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.