There are a great deal of things Her Majesty’s great land has given us over the course of the country’s long history. Once the great British Empire, and known at times for its brash occupation of distance lands, the United Kingdom has been home to some of the greatest musical entities we have encountered over the past few decades. From The Smiths to the Stone Roses, from the Who to the Clash, the incarnations of this form of expression is as limitless as those who craft it. And while the majority of what we have come to consider as these cornerstones of music often speak of artistic revolutions (inevitably soaked with praise from the media and hailed as the “saviors/innovators of [insert genre in need of saving/innovating]”), one recent act is in no danger of being hailed as “saviors;” at least not directly. Perhaps the act in question aren’t quite of the level of praise their more luminous predecessors are often associated with. Yet what is most striking about their progress is not whether they will or will not revolutionize their genre; but that they reinforce the idea that perhaps revolutions aren’t necessary all the time.
Taking parts of The Clash, The Jam, and some good fashioned pop sensibilities (but surprisingly, not so much Morrissey), The Ordinary Boys could very well have released this year’s bona fide rock album. Part energy, part enthusiasm, bags of class and little to no intentions of being the next in line to carry of flag of revolution; one can find a great deal to like about Over the Counter Culture. With traces of Weller, Strummer, and Townshend clearly visible in primary vocalist Preston (he’s got the mono-name thing going on), The Ordinary Boys clearly have the knack for being as musically decisive as these artists. From the opening salvo of the guitar soaked, trumpet powered (yes, trumpets! And not in the gangly, ska sort of way either) opening title track, their irresistible nature is almost immediate. And it’s not that their sound is remarkably innovative (perhaps that is the point), but that they have molded from well-proven qualities a formula of surprising potency.
The album as a whole is strong from beginning to end. Tracks like “Week In and Week Out” and “Talk Talk Talk” do more than just reminisce about past greatness, but do their part to reinforce the thought that something brought to life many years ago still has a viable place in today’s constant search for upheaval. The release’s most able outing, “Seaside,” is a delicate mix of subtle pop melodies, Brit-rock, and touch of glamour reserved for getting away from the erosive nature of modern life. As they so eloquently state; “The seaside needs us more than ever.” And whether is contemplating the sad state of affairs of the business, or being reflective about how seemingly distant we have all become, much of the album delves into matters that ultimately surround us as a whole without picking one distinct undertone. While the nature of their subjects is one regularly visited, it is rare to find them tackled with the acerbic wit, charm, and cheeky disposition seen here.
The most interesting statement in Over the Counter Culture could very well be words sung in “The List Goes On;” a Love is Dead-era sounding Mr. T Experience effort that, when not commenting on music critics and the sad state of radio, perceptively states; “Originality is so passé.” The band’s very principles delicately balance on this one rather brilliant statement- there are no delusions of great originality here as their influences are as clear as daylight; yet it does little to take away from the album’s appeal. Listening to the Ordinary Boys isn’t about discovering something new, it’s about rediscovering something you’ve likely heard before done with a great deal of competence. And while they may not reach as high as the summits achieved by some of the UK’s greats, they do share a certain quality that many have come to associate with these timeless artists- because in the end, The Ordinary Boys understand that sometimes, its all just rock n’ roll.
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.