There are certain points in my life where I just want to revel in simplicity. This feeling often correlates into the music I listen to. The endless tags put on every single band, song, and album is just so irritating. It could be anything from post-punk, to garage rock, to my absolute favorite, emo. This name tagging compulsion that everyone in the world seems to harbor has sent me over the edge. I just want to listen to a rock band. I don’t want to have to think of a bunch of genres to describe it. I want a band that will extend through the barriers of stereotypical labeling. Lucky for me I found the Von Bondies.
First of all, there is a misconception that must be cleared straight away. Many people seem to think that the Von Bondies are just a second rate version of the White Stripes, much like those purses with weird initials on them are $30 knock-offs of $1,000 Louis Vuitton bags. That is simply not the case. Yes, it is true that both bands hail from Detroit, Michigan, and both got lumped into that garage rock category. Jack White even produced the group’s first album, but that doesn’t mean the Von Bondies need to be placed alongside the White Stripes. There are three main differences between the two groups. First, the Von Bondies do not have an album full of songs with really repetitive bass lines that start to give you a headache after a few listens. Second, the Von Bondies write lyrics that impose clarity and simplicity, while figuring out a White Stripes song is like putting together a puzzle with about seventy-five percent of the pieces missing. Thirdly, the Von Bondies are just all around much more enjoyable to listen to. What the Von Bondies need to do right now is shake off the White Stripe’s shadow and let their own image shine.
The Von Bondies latest release is Pawn Shoppe Heart, an album full of rock and roll tunes about life, heartache, and booze. They are very rock n’ roll: from their looks, to their attitude, and to their songs; yet they have their own defined version of rock n’ roll, considering their band is split down the middle when it comes to the male and female ratio. The album takes off with “No Regrets,” a song with an astoundingly catchy drumbeat that distinctly matches the catchy chorus. Wailing guitars come in and out of the song until the listener is completely convinced this record is definitely worth listening to. Pawn Shoppe Heart is one pocket full of energy infused with loud rock that can be found through the whole record.
The Von Bondies are reminiscent of the Rolling Stones back when they were young men and releasing songs like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Stollsteimer sounds like he has the propensity to have the swagger and confidence of Mick Jagger. He has the attitude and charisma that shines through just by the way he can turn it up and turn it down. He can howl a song out like a rock star and/or he can go to the other extreme by drawing out long dramatic notes. On the title track of the album, Stollsteimer sings with such veracity over the screeching guitars it makes for an intense end to the record. It is the sort of song that you really just want to hear as the finale at the end of a concert. If it’s this good on record, it has got to be amazing live.
Stollsteimer takes off from his vocal duties to let the girls take the lead on the track “Not That Social” which poses the lyric “you’re not that social, just a good drinker” as the tagline. The song has simple words, but it’s the perfect Saturday night out-on-the-town song. Everyone knows someone portrayed in this song. This is something else that the Von Bondies seem to conquer whole heartedly. Stollsteimer has the talent of writing lyrics that avoid complexity and instead harbor on ground that people naturally identify with. The songs are not horribly written rock songs with no point, no story, or no sense of comprehension. They instead focus on the sort of issues that everyone deals with and understands.
Pawn Shoppe Heart is what so many albums strive to be. It is a rock album that manages to be catchy, simplistic, and yet doesn’t sound like an overproduced “garage band” record. The Vines, the Hives, the White Stripes; they all need to take note, because none of them have lived up to the hype they’ve created. The Von Bondies might actually be able to surpass theirs. They have made a record unbound by labels. Why? Because it’s good, and that is all that really matters in the end.
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.