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Weezer – Weezer (Black Album)

Weezer (Black Album) is a pretty crap record. Don’t get mad at us, we’re just being honest.

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It is a sad indictment of a band that you approach their music with the kind of trepidation you reserve for one of those zany Japanese game shows. You have no idea if opening the door means you end up in a place of happiness, or naked and humiliated in the snow, or punched in the face by a giant wrecking ball. But here we are with Weezer, their fifth album in as many years (6! if you count that horrid covers album they released less than two months(!) ago) and so many forgettable songs that you have a hard time remembering a moment, any moment, that stands up in the last decade. It felt like just yesterday that the first few songs from Pacific Daydream had shown promise. Now you’re telling us that was two years and three releases ago?

Almost ten years ago we lamented that we hadn’t heard a great Weezer song for some time. And while it was a longer wait between the Blue Album and Hurley as it is from Hurley to today, it certainly FEELS like it has been forever. Rivers is prolific, no doubt, and on the occasion he manages to pull an old trick out of the well worn hat, you are shocked into a state of disbelief that yes, at one time, everything the man touched turned to gold.

Not yet long enough to get the terrible cacophony of the Teal Album out of our ears, Weezer has released the Black Album. It’s 10 more songs that will mostly test your patience but in a surprising twist, there are some actual moments on the album that thankfully, don’t make you want to rip your ears off the side of your head. Let’s talk about those because it’s nice to think that Rivers can still write a few great songs. “High As A Kite” serves as the album’s highlight; its piano-laden composition and fuzzed out chorus is the closest the album gets to anything on the Blue Album. Yes, the video is nice, but its the song that’s the throwback to Cuomo at his best. In “I’m Just Being Honest”, the band channel sparkling pop nuances to bring to life someone in a band handing Rivers their demo on the way to a show. Rivers listens to half it, realizes its pretty crap (“your band sounds like shit”), and the song swells in a rather joyous and humorous hooky pop song that culminates in its succinct honesty; “don’t get mad at me, I’m just being honest”. “The Prince Who Wanted Everything” is a nice trek to toe-tapping, finger-snapping 60s pop. It’s a good balance between light-hearted songwriting and the kind of musical experimentation (baroque pop in this instance) that Weezer have a fondness for.

Why can’t there be more of this and less of everything else?

Who knows, actually, Rivers does, but he hasn’t told us why for the better part of 20 years.

The opener “Can’t Knock The Hustle” is meant to the over-the-top cheek. Yet its groove driven, jazzy atmosphere is burdened by the “hey kids I’m cool” lyrical waxing (“leave a five star review, and I’ll leave you one too”). It just tries too hard. “Zombie Bastards” is held back by the opposite. Its Zombie-themed musings are quite fantastic, but the song, sounding like Jack Johnson just found out his guitar plugs in, is just no good. “Living In LA” sounds like a less crap Maroon 5, so it has that going for it. “Too Many Thoughts In My Head” is the kind of song you forget you’re listening to halfway through it’s that bland. You spend most of the avant-pop “Byzantine” skipping ahead before realizing the song is over, while the closing “California Snow” is only just OK. Faux hip hop over its EDM-inspired sounds is unfortunately as 2019 Weezer as it gets.

When you look back at the last 15 years of Weezer you see that amongst it all, there are enough songs that remind you that Rivers Cuomo is indeed a talented songwriter. Unfortunately it seems that he’s often bogged down by what one can only imagine are record label deadlines, songwriter insecurities and the constant need to be releasing stuff. It’s a shame because you can pick 10 songs from this time that would have made a pretty great follow-up to Maladroit. But here we are. The Black Album sounds like the record someone hands to you at a show before you’re about to go on, and so you politely say, “sure I’ll have a listen”. I listened to it, but halfway through it I had to quit, sorry Rivers, your band sounds like shit. Don’t get mad at me, I’m just being honest.

(Atlantic Records)

Reviews

Crossed Keys – Saviors

Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds

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Crossed Keys Saviors

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.

(Hellminded Records)

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Every last time: Revisiting Gameface’s “How Far Is Goodbye?”

A glorious sound of a time gone by

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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.

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