The affinity I hold for the Gaslight Anthem has become difficult to explain. The success in which American Slang has propelled them to is as deserving as I’ve ever seen– an honest to goodness reception fitting for a band so entrenched in the working class ethos they have extolled since 2007’s Sink Or Swim. They spoke like Springsteen, sang songs the way Kerouac wrote, and held strong the values of American rock n’ roll. They were in every respect, the great American band for the current generation. American Slang is an album endlessly rich, the albatross on which they will undoubtedly fly to immeasurable heights with.
Yet, in a strange sense, the success and global reception almost works against the fables they preach. How does one relate to living the hard life when you’re at Glastonbury amongst a hundred thousand strong? Does singing about just getting by lose some of its romanticism when you’re on the cover of a glossy magazine? I never really understood why so many people were in uproar when Dylan first plugged in– maybe I still don’t, but I guess a small part of me compels the question of how an unruffled soul connects to something almost solely written for someone below the line. Is there a greater understanding of certain artists and genres when all of which it celebrates is very much part of who you are?
An educated and well-versed music enthusiast can certainly understand and appreciate various styles, genres, and histories and still remain distant, but will they ever connect to the music the same way as someone who lives a life parallel to the artist does? I’m not sure, but I know that when I listen to Born to Run, I have a far greater connection to it than when I listen to The Rising. So when The Gaslight Anthem start playing stadiums (a very good possibility than I’m actually not against at all), will the music mean the same as when I saw them play in front of 100 people in a small, broken down backpacker hotel on a sweaty August night? People who saw Springsteen in 1972 and then saw him again post-1984 may have that answer.
In the June 2010 issue of Big Cheese Magazine, they describe American Slang as “the pain of a broken heart, salvation from the radio and love by the lights of the bar. The record is a perfect marriage of expert storytelling, superb musicianship and classic melodies.” It is an apt assessment and among the many reasons why it is such a good album. Brian Fallon has traded in his crunchy riffs of The ’59 Sound for more bluesy guitar licks, dropping references to Maria while expanding his already excellent grasp of creating perfect blue collar rock songs. You will be hard pressed to find a writer who is able to inject his music with actual, down to earth substance better than Fallon. It’s genuine, all of it. And my favorite part about it all is that no matter where I’ve traveled and what I’ve seen, there is some intangible connection to the music that will resonate differently for each and every listener. It’s a murky theory I know, and I don’t have the vocabulary to explain it, but with every listen of the closing “We Did It When We Were Young”, I am reminded of life up to this point and I am hit with endless contemplation and reflection. It’s not about whether or not they wrote this song with any such intention, it’s just that it is powerful enough to do so.
Strangely, I feel less compelled to talk about the actual songs themselves; there are many rock critics and writers who will do a far greater job at explaining or justifying the praise with connections to Dylan, Strummer, Miles Davis, and of course, Springsteen. They’ll tell you about the great literary references, the homage to the great cities and trails, and the many emotional highs and lows as painted by the chord progressions and melodies. But for me, it is the lasting impression and continued connection they’ve painted since I first heard them in 2007; that life’s greatest reward comes from an unforgettable journey regardless of the final chapter. It reminds me of the many great pages left to write, and that filling them through your time here is the only reason why we should wake up every day. It does not resonate emotionally (save the closing track) as much as The ’59 Sound does, but it continues to do the greatest thing a band/an album/a song can do for me. The past is part of who you are, the present reminds us of this, and the future will always be unwritten. It is the only part of their music I hope they keep intact no matter where they go and what they do.
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.