Here’s what I think. Anyone, regardless of pedigree, life experience, and musical expertise should be forced to take an intelligence test before they’re allowed to write a pop album. If they’re not quite up to snuff, that’s fine; they can still make their album, put a nice sunny picture on the cover, and tour around the country brightening people’s days, as long as that album is entirely instrumental. I’m so sick of great songs falling apart when the singer uses 18 words that rhyme with love. And, usually, these songwriters know a thing or two about melody, so why not just play to your strengths?
Why not, Chris Simpson?
I don’t know exactly what happened between Mineral and your current project Zookeeper, but somehow “I just want to be something more than the mud in your eyes I want to be the clay in your hands” turned into “Believe in the mess we are / Conceive in the mess we are / [and, of course…] Find peace in the mess we are.” This 5 track EP contains four tracks of beautiful, diverse, fun pop music that I could not be more ashamed to sing along to; the lyrics are just that underwhelming. And things start off so promisingly. Opener, “I Live In the Mess You Are,” (which provided the above lyrical nugget), starts with an alarm clock, and manages to repeat the same melody, nearly unchanging, for its 4 plus minute runtime, without losing momentum or becoming grating. The reason for this is the layers. Sure, a guitar plucking out the same chords over and over gets boring, but when you add in 5 or 6 backup singers, at least two drummers, banjo, and, why not, a pot and pan player, things get more interesting. “Tax Collector” is equally pleasant in it’s ambling pace, and things really get interesting on the jazzy “Flood of Love,” with floating keyboards and perfectly placed horns, the kind you don’t notice until the third or fourth listen but then smile at every time they rise up in the mix. Closer “Delivery Room” is a triumphant piano led hoedown down with just the perfect type of pounding drums, and surprisingly successful off key bridge.
But, for me at least, it all comes back to the lyrics, most perfectly exemplified by the album’s weakest track, “Two-Part Invention,” which not only strips down to just Simpson and a piano, it also inexplicably bathes itself in distorted vocals and awful warping which attempt to create a retro 60s pop sound but just irritate. I hate it when reviewers isolate 5 word snippets from lyrics, trying to prove a song’s worth or lack thereof, but giving a full stanza certainly doesn’t work in Simpson’s favor.
“See how the chips fall where they may
How my lips sink ships, drift astray
How I’ve missed you, I’ve been a bad boy
But seventeen, it takes forever and me
I was already on fire, dreaming with angels“
The song’s beautiful last words “God, she was my melody” do what they can to repair the damage done by “I’m coming to get you, but I’m running so slow, like a dream,” but they just can’t do it.
I’m enough of a pop punk fan that I don’t expect insight with every line. Normally, with pop music, I want something to sing along to, to bob my head to. I like the music on Zookeeper’s debut enough to call this EP promising, as long as I can get a promise for a return to Simpson’s Mineral level-lyrical abilities, or, at least, one or two instrumentals.
(Belle City Pop)
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.