Album Review: Face To Face – “Laugh Now…Laugh Later”

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“Laugh Now..Laugh Later” marks Face To Face’s official return to the punk rock game after a nine-year absence. Released May 17th via People Like You Records, “Laugh Now…Laugh Later” is Face to Face’s seventh studio album; their first since 2002’s “How To Ruin Everything.” As such, it also marks a lot of other firsts: the band’s first album on PLY, the first album with new drummer Danny Thompson and part-time ax-man Dennis Hill, the first album with Chad Yaro since 2000’s “Reactionary,” the first album without Chad Blinman at the helm since the self-titled album in 1996. In spite of all of the changes and the band’s prolonged absence from making new music, the result finds the band picking up where they left off almost a decade ago as one of the most important bands in the game.

THE VOCALS: Front man Trever Keith has long been identified as having one of the strongest, most identifiable voices in the last twenty years of punk music. While that most definitely continues on “Laugh Now…Laugh Later,” the most striking difference between the new album and the band’s past efforts is the amount of “singing” that Keith does – much more along the lines of his solo album, 2008’s “Melancholics Anonymous” album, especially on tracks like “The Invisible Hand,” “Blood in the Water,” “All for Nothing” and especially “What You Came For.”

THE MUSIC: From a musical standpoint, Face to Face have always (especially in the Scott Shiflett era) paid close attention to melody and developing an airtight rhythm section. Back when the band’s reunion was announced and Pete Parada wasn’t involved due to his Offspring duties, I was admittedly a little skeptical of the band’s prospects of finding someone to fill his shoes. Parada helped reinvigorate the band’s sound and was a steady force of urgency and intensity behind the kit. All worrying to the contrary was for naught, as new drummer Danny Thompson has proven to be a great addition. Thompson, like Parada before him, is rock steady behind the kit, and serves as the band’s gas pedal to keep things cranking along. “Laugh Now…Laugh Later” serves as Thompson’s first chance to really put his own imprint on the Face to Face sound, and the results are impressive, particularly on songs like “Should Anything Go Wrong” and “What You Came For.”

The traditional sound that Face to Face’s fans have come to know and love is well represented on the new album: Keith’s trademark snarl paired with plenty of ‘oozin ahs’ in all the right places, power chord heavy Les Pauls, swirling bass currents running through each song forming an air-tight rhythm section with heavy sounding and rock solid drums. Yaro’s sound and playing style fit Face to Face like a well-worn baseball glove,

The only real nit that I find myself picking is the mix: there are a few times where the vocals are jacked too high, and a few occasions where it sounds like five guys recording their parts in five different rooms (particularly on “What You Came For”). While I understand that this is exactly what most albums by most bands are, it misses the live feel of “How To Ruin Everything.” But again, that’s nit-picking. The production style is naturally going to be different than on past f2f albums, as “Laugh Now…Laugh Later” is the first album without longtime producer Chad Blinman. F2f instead went into the studio with the Joby Ford from The Bronx at that band’s Big Game Lodge studio.

THE LYRICS: By and large, Trever Keith’s lyrics have been filled with a sort of hopeful pessimism over the years. The subject of most f2f songs has typically been an ambiguous “you,” and his songs have not been overtly political like many other punk bands. This allows the listener to interpret the lyrics however they choose and make them their own in that regard. Typical themes from the f2f catalog have focused on getting kicked in the head, punched in the gut and mustering through anyway while realizing that things may not, in fact, get better despite your best efforts. Songs like “Bombs Away,” “Under the Wreckage,” “It’s All About You” and “Should Anything Go Wrong” rank among the best songs from the Face to Face catalog in that regard. That said, this album has its moments, especially in the last half, that find Keith appearing more introspective and (at times) vulnerable than usual, particularly on “I Don’t Mind And You Don’t Matter” and “All For Nothing.”

THE SONGS:

1.  Should Anything Go Wrong – Made its debut on last year’s Warped Tour. Amped up Motorhead-style thrash fest, this one is going to inspire circle pits for years to come. Drummer Danny Thompson serves as a concrete-solid backbone, punishing the snare and double bass and serving as the song’s gas pedal.

2. It’s All About You – singsong, playground style melody that continues in the verses. Musically it has that trademark recent Face to Face sound, and would have been a perfect fit on “Reactionary” or “How To Ruin Everything.” Catchiest song that the band has ever written…probably my favorite song on the album (lyrically, musically, melodically), though any of the first four songs are almost interchangeable in that regard.

3. The Invisible Hand – starts with a tom-heavy drum intro before the whole band comes in for the chorus. Trademark Face to Face song, it follows a loud-quiet-loud pattern with group chanted backing vocals in the chorus – sort of quintessential pop punk in those ways. Great melody, with the “like a grain of sand, slipping through your fingers, you want what you can’t have” triplet repeated many times throughout the song.

4. Bombs Away – starts out with a a fast-paced bass groove a la a few songs from the band’s self-titled album that continues to push the tempo throughout the song. Shiflett and Thompson cement what continues to be, for my money, the steadiest rhythm section in punk rock. Otherwise has a sound not unlike “thick as a brick,” which appeared on 2005’s “Shoot The Moon” greatest hits collection and is an underrated song in its own right. Pretty heavy song, with some interesting tempo and time signature changes in the bridge.

5.Blood In The Water – from the same vein as “Bombs Away. Logical progression from “Reactionary” and “HTRE”. Great, pogo-inspiring chorus.

6.What You Came For – Finds Keith hitting a higher register than f2f fans have come to expect. Musically it has the same punk rock urgency and intensity and that you’re used to from Face to Face.

7. I Don’t Mind And You Don’t Matter – more of a mid/up-tempo rock song than a punk song. I’m probably going to take some crap for this, but it sounds like the kind of song that you could picture hearing on an X Games highlight reel or a SportsCenter Plays of the Week montage. I mean that entirely as a good thing.

8. Stopgap – slower tempo, darker sounding punk rock song with a swirling bass groove throughout the pre-chorus and the chorus. Trademark Keith on the lyrics/vocals. Has a sound reminiscent of the “self-titled” era.

9. All For Nothing – Sounds not unlike something that could have been reworked from the “Ignorance Is Bliss” or “Melancholics Anonymous” sessions. Lyrically, it finds Keith shedding some of the ‘hopeful pessimism’ that has been a running theme over the years and singing with more personal, heart-on-his-sleeve emotion. Like “I Don’t Mind And You Don’t Matter,” it’s a little more of a mid/up-tempo rock song than anything else. Features more of a genuine guitar solo than f2f fans may be used to.

10. Pushover – This one is, in fact, re-recorded from Keith’s “Melancholics Anonymous” album. Appears as more of a modern rock feel on MA, it’s given a more pop-punk feel on “Laugh Now, Laugh Later.” Trever was right, it does sound like a Face To Face song. Cool song. My personal favorite from the MA album, so I was delighted to hear it given the f2f treatment.

11. Under The Wreckage – Similar in style to “Thick As A Brick,” this one ends the album with almost as much intensity as it began.

I was a little slow on the uptake in jumping on the Good Ship Face to Face back in the 1990s. Unlike the fans that “Disconnected” won over, I was only introduced to the band on the self-titled album in 1996. For my money, the songwriting tandem of Keith and Shiflett has few competitors in the punk rock game, so I’m glad this album finally got made. Nine years is too long. Let’s hope the fellas have a lot more gas in the tank for what hope to be a long, long ride.



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