Contrary to popular belief, we are actually in abundance of talented song craftsmen. From the low ranged pastures of those distinctly less cerebral landscapes to our deepest and most complicated entangling, men and women are at this very moment creating instrumental structures that will likely move us, shake us, appease us and upset us. We have those who at their most inspired, utilize the most unique of object collections – bending their resonance into compositions that are not only individually fascinating; but are capable of evoking the deepest of thoughts in comprehending these atypical results. They are the troubadours of musical creativity; musicians who stray away from textbook arrangements and recognized sounds and in the end, fracture previous conceptions of genres and styles. Then there are those who keep within our commercial boundaries, crafting accessible pop numbers that become the accompaniment of moving pictures and that whistling walk down the street. While certainly not overly creative, they too possess the faculty to influence and sway.
The Weakerthans fall into the latter category in most points. Their collective sound tends to range between alternative-country-pop and prairie rock, never being too challenging but grasping at our most organic of inclinations. It is however, not the attribute in which they excel in; no, that one glaring asset lies in their lyrical virtuoso John K Samson; their champion of wandering spontaneous prose. It would be of no surprise if in some way, the nomadic undercurrent that wavers through Reconstruction Site was derived on some cross country voyage with the Neal Cassadys of the world, toting Ginsberg and Thomas Wolfe. If the vast endless roads and grasslands could be translated into today’s musical offerings, The Weakerthans would be the direct result. It has always been that way, at least for Samson. During his Propaghandhi days, while Chris Hannah spoke of McCarthyism, dead fascists and homosexuality, Samson penned tunes about small town alienation and regrets; and his keen observational eye has not lost a step since staving off the staunch political jibe. And his musical sense, while a small step behind, is remarkably adaptive to his drifting wisdom.
It is fitting in a way that while his words invent so intricately; “I’m afloat / A float in a summer parade / up the street in a town that you were born in / With a girl at the top wearing tulle / and a Miss Somewhere sash / waving like a queen”, the accompanying sound naturally eases itself into the lyrical meditation. In the track “Reconstruction Site”, the gentle guitar pulling and the cozy bass line plots the travelogue while those reflective lines do most of the driving. It is this sort of hand-in-hand partnership that best connects the listener to the music in its entirety; one that prevents the sort of stagnation that comes with sounds of flurrying experimental direction. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy to point out that there has been some level of creative flat lining since their last disc, Left and leaving (2000). Their previous effort snaked so charmingly across the folk/rock/country vista, stopping at certain intervals to bask in the glow of loungesque garage sale wonderment (“Everything Must Go!”), modest spoken word beating (“Without Mythologies”) and a sense of exploration (musically) that stretched from the tundra to the swampy marsh lands.
Reconstruction Site is far less adventurous in regards to its instrumental assembly; credit the higher production value if you will, but nevertheless, the seemingly level plain in which they skate on presents the text in a greater connecting tone – a chime those searching for musical refinement will undoubtedly hear. From the unfussy rock of “The Reasons” to the uber bouncy “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucalt in Paris, 1961)”, anyone seeking connectivity within the music will grasp at its accessible foundation and truly itinerant sense.
In the instances where they do become musically restive, they do so with much less vigor than previous outings. “One Great City!” is an endearing folky stab at the city of Winnipeg, with delicate strings-a-twinkling, it is about as musically artful as this album gets. However, it does bear the comic verse “The crowded riders’ restlessness enunciates that the Guess Who suck / the Jets were lousy anyway / The same route every day / And in the turning lane, someone’s stalled again”.
Reconstruction Site isn’t the mark of artful splendor, but it does continue the Weakerthans’ quest to forever travel the meandering conduits of personal freedom and observational exploration. If anyone were ever to forward the cause for written spontaneity and a freshness for inspirational description, John K Samson would be our lonesome scribe. And for those seeking a companion for their favorite “road” book, the music of The Weakerthans is that cross-country trip you yearn to take over and over again – a bona fide sound for that timeless vision.
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.