You can argue that the music output of Vinnie Caruana has been some of the most enigmatic over the course of the last 20 or so years. At the very least, within the genre of alternative-infused punk rock, his work in The Movielife was often ’cause célèbre’ (at least early on in their Drive-Thru Records history). When The Movielife signed to Drive-Thru Records to release the glossy The Movielife has a Gambling Problem, it was a big deal. When they released Forty Hour Train Back to Penn, it was a big deal. Similarly, when Caruana formed I Am the Avalanche, it drew our attention as the next chapter of a respected songwriter. What is it about Caruana and the work that keeps attention drawn to him? The answer is often laid bare in his solo work; introspective, honest, soul-baring.
Aging Frontman, a new six-song EP, continues Caruana’s impressive catalog of solo work and is the follow-up to 2016’s full-length Survivor’s Guilt. While it’s easy to see the title “Aging Frontman” and think of it as a humorous look at Caruana today, it is much deeper than just being new music by someone who “been around for a while”. Truth is, Aging Frontman is a deeply moving, succinct effort that not only questions Caruana’s own musical mortality but those of his listeners as well. None of this is more evident than in the beautiful opening track “Better”. The Americana-strewn melancholy underwrites the song’s sometimes pained outlook that is both a little wistful but at the same time poignant. Caruana has said the song is about “speaking to my friends, my family, my wife, the people that come to see me sing.” The song asks whether or not Caruana has “brought joy, made you proud”; wrapped in his effervescent and recognizable voice. It’s a powerful song that examines a songwriter seeking answers to his influence both to those around him, and to himself.
Musically, the EP treads on similar ground his last full-length exhibited. Less frenetic than an I Am The Avalanche record, less rock-ready than a Movielife one, but capturing many of the same emotions and resonance of his other work. Like in “Dying in the Living Room”, where the song plucks away on folk-strewn indie but showcases Caruana’s distinct, gutwrenching vocal work. The distorted solo hum of “I Love You, Please Watch Over Us” is an example of Caruana painting a myriad of emotions in an interlude. It’s just the strum of an electric guitar, but like the title, it can cover a host of ideas. Think of it as electric guitar meditation.
The EP’s best moment is probably “Providence”, where Caruana layers guitars over each other, over mid-tempo percussion work, while contemplating life and death and the meaning of everything in between. It’s a beautiful track, and as it is cascading into its end, you are left with a certain peace from the record. Caruana articulates these familiar emotions with grace and poise. In the song, he sings “the beat of my heart tells me someday I’ll be home”, and in that same contemplative assuredness, the songs on Aging Frontman tell us the same.
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.
Pine – Pine
Pine’s debut album is a kind of hypnotic melancholia
Where did Ottawa’s Pine come from? It’s a question worth asking after listening to their painfully gorgeous self-titled debut album. Pine use the phrase “doom and gloom never sounded so sweet” to describe their sound, and true to that, this 11-track outing is filled with the kind of hypnotic melancholia that became the playbook for a great many Midwestern emo bands that emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s. The biggest difference here is that while Pine have the heartbreak down pat, their musical sense of loss is lifted slightly by the airy, more wistful sounds of their guitar-strewn songs. Sure, there’s a lot that sounds like a great Mineral record or a Gloria Record album, but there’s also traces of Florida indie/emo band The Rocking Horse Winner and at times, bands like Rainer Maria.
Pine are buoyed by the great vocal work of Darlene Deschamps. Her voice soars through tracks like “Memento” and the terrific “Lusk”. The latter in particular is a great example of how Pine lull you into a sense of calm before it explodes in a collage of symphonic distortion and post-rock twinkling. In “Sunder” they ascend to louder, more expansive sounds. The song is a great combination of thick, fuzzy guitars, mid-tempo percussion work, and that pained vocal delivery that gives the song an extra punch in the guts.
The album took an impressive 2 years to finish, and you can hear the trials and tribulations of that gestation period through the songs. There’s pain, sadness, anger and frustration in songs like the intro “Within You” and the more new emo-esque “Swollen”, but also beauty, and as the album concludes, a sense of incredible catharsis. The record SOUNDS great too, with production values (by a production team that includes Will Yip, who has helmed records by Circa Survive, Braid, Saosin, and the Bouncing Souls to name a few) adding to the grand cinematic finish of the record.
For those who love what emo was in the mid to late 90s will find much to like about Pine just as much as those who like Explosions in the Sky and their post-rock brethren. Pine have been crafting their sound over the last few years and while their previous EP Pillow Talk showed a solid foundation, this new self-titled record is the work of a band close to the height of their abilities. Moving, beautiful, and littered with life’s roller coaster of emotions as songs, Pine is definitely recommended listening.