Described as “challenging” music, Knife Play launched Xiu Xiu into the music world, and they have been hard at work trying to redefine challenging music on their own terms. Slowly, Xiu Xiu has built up a following while working to perfect their music. Fabulous Muscles is the result of changes within the band that focuses around negative dominance.
Fabulous Muscles starts out sounding like a broken Super Nintendo with soft, alluring, whispering vocals. The vocals then pick up to catch the music that seems to be trying to win an imaginary race with Stewart. This album is not the usual dance influenced Xiu Xiu; in fact, it is rather more of an experimental electronic sound. To be honest, there isn’t a specific track that outshines the rest, but the album overall has solid material.
Stewart isn’t a gifted vocalist, but despite his shortcomings he still manages to make this interesting. Something about his vocal expression makes you want to continue listening. Things do get a little dull towards the middle, but all albums tend to fall into some sort of lull, which makes it acceptable. However the lull in this album doesn’t compare to what other albums have. This lull has something lurking in it; the ability to still outshine most other works this year. Ignoring this small fact, the album continues on proudly, wrapping things up elegantly with “Mike.”
At first, Fabulous Muscles can sound like an out of tune, out of beat band that just sat down and starting playing. The music can be chaotic, but at the same time it is so tightly constructed that it all falls into place together. But what is best about this album is that it all strings together to create something with a message. Too much music today is wasted on trying to be popular and not get something across within the songs. Xiu Xiu had a central idea of what they wanted and managed to execute with poise.
Impressive is an understatement; and Fabulous Muscles is an album that boasts a certain magnetic force that makes it a mainstay in CD rotation. Something about this album is haunting. Maybe it is the influences of what made this album, or maybe it is just the indescribably beautiful use of instruments that had not before been explored. Stewart’s voice is impressive on this album, and results in a perfect balance between the music and the album’s vocal tone. The harmony that arises is awe-inspiring. Take the time out and give this album a listen. It is one of the few so far this year that deserve it.
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.