Album Review: Face to Face – “Protection”

Since returning from their self imposed hiatus in 2008, it seems SoCal punk legends Face To Face have made a point to make up for lost time, releasing albums every couple years and touring extensively in that time. It’s almost as if the break was a hard reset for them, proving that sometimes you just need a little time off to recharge the batteries and get things back on track. In “Protection” this newest offering has continued on that path of excellence and is by far the best since their return.

When returning to the studio to start recording, lead man Trevor Keith said that the intent was to get back to basics, that fundamental, honest sound that originally boosted them to the ranks of punk royalty. To help them attain that goal, they returned to Fat Wreck Chords who nearly twenty five years ago released their debut studio album Don’t Turn Away.  It seems only fitting that they would come back, with both celebrating their 25th anniversaries this year. The whole album has a sense of coming full circle to it. Although label owner, Fat Mike doesn’t see it as a serendipitous return so much as he does fulfilling a contractual obligation, humorously stating “face to face aren’t really coming back to Fat. We originally signed them to a two record deal. Paragraph 6; Section C clearly stated that face to face (the band) must deliver two full length LP’s within the next twenty five years. They are just making good on the original contract. I knew those guys would come through!” Regardless of the reasoning behind the homecoming, the album guaranteed to make a lot of Top Ten Lists for 2016.

Check out the full review below!

Protection marks this venerable quartet’s ninth studio album, the prior being Three Chords and a Half Truth released back in 2013. While listening, I found myself on multiple occasions having flashbacks to high school when Big Choice never left my tape deck. There’s certainly nothing groundbreaking here and some songs even have a familiar sound to them. Some might see that as a negative.  I see it in a more positive light, like a return home or seeing an old friend after a decade of being away from one another. It’s no secret that the band had lost a little of it’s luster before their break, with albums getting low marks with listeners but with this “Back to Basics” approach the boys have managed to recapture the energy and youthfulness of their signature sound while also elevating it with more sophisticated songwriting. Driving that point home, Trevor Keith said whenever he felt stuck in his writing process or when something sounded stale, he would search for and read books by authors like modern philosopher, Sam Harris to help spark ideas. Part of the reason he had time to do that is because they enlisted the help of fabled producer and Decendents drummer, Bill Stevenson and his studio, The Blasting Room. This took the onus of production off of the band, a task that they would normally do themselves and left them to concentrate solely on the music. Over the course of the eleven songs, Stevenson’s influence can be felt, though not always in a direct way. It’s that kind of maturity, knowing when to let others step in and support, that can make take a good album and make it special.

The opening track, “Bent But Not Broken” was released early and already has music video up on Youtube, so most fans have already given this one a listen. It definitely sets the pace for the album though. Kicking the door open with a rapid fire, staccato bass riff, skittering behind the roaring punk guitars. While this one may not sound exactly like something from Big Choice, it does highlight the enwisened songwriting I spoke of earlier. When in the midst of an election year “Maybe we’re missin’ the point that’re we’re listening to liars and thieves. Bend but you just won’t break. Some things will never change” is a fairly blatant message and an atypical topic for these guys but that’s a common theme in a few of the songs. Almost like they’re getting a little ornery with age. Another good example of this more is “Fourteen Fifty-Nine” which, as Mr. Keith puts it, is a hate song about today’s insta-celebrities and is a nod to Andy Warhol’s quote about everyone getting their fifteen minutes of fame. “You look like such a mess. You better shut your gaping mouth…Fourteen Fifty-Nine. I hope it won’t be long until you die”. No ambiguity there either.

There’s still plenty of tracks that have that classic face to face essence to them. Edgy and aggressive, but not “I hope you die” aggressive. “I Won’t Say I’m Sorry” is one of those wonderful fuck off odes that we’re more accustomed to hearing from these veterans from Victorville. “Am I supposed to be afraid? Should I be careful what I say? You never listened anyway. It doesn’t make a difference . I won’t say I’m sorry”. “Double Crossed” is another track with a familiar ring to it, piercing distortion in the beginning before the poppy guitars kill the squealing.  “Remember when when used to have it made? It never seemed like we were on the take but we were double crossed along the  way. It’s hard to see it any other way”. Another early release, this one more than any other song, took on the feel of an early 90’s face to face tune. Even down to the little hand clapping breakdown in the middle. From start to finish, instant classic. The title track, “Protection” also sounds like it could’ve been a B-side on Don’t Turn Away.

Every track is gold, but I had a few that got more playtime than others. “Say What You Want” had incredible guitars, almost like a machine beating to a rhythm while driving the song forward slowly, building up, layer by layer until the chorus “Wise up. You’re not the only one who tried to make a difference. Distrust. Filling up in us. Before we know it, truth and lies go hand in glove”. Quietly intertwined in the background of those choruses, there’s some pretty sick metal riffs, so listen carefully! A strong second place goes to the final track “And So It Goes” but I’ve always been a sucker for silky smooth harmonies. But, when you couple that with the lightening quick, precise drumming of Danny Thompson, you could sing the lyrics to “Row Your Boat” and it would kick ass. “See If I Care” though, is by far my favorite track and embodies the point made earlier about the mix of the old sound with more experienced, seasoned song and music writing. This is the culmination for me. “There’s nothing left to do here but clean up this mess. I let myself down for the last time. This things that used to matter, I couldn’t care less. I used to hate being alone, you’ve taken everything from me I’ve ever known” Not sure why the lyrics resonated with me as much as they did but to me this is a perfect track, hitting every mark.

Look, I’m a verbose mother fucker, I know. But this LP deserves it more than most. I didn’t even cover all the songs! face to face with Fat Wreck Chords is brilliance. The gang accomplished everything they set out to do and in doing so managed to rekindle that lightning in a bottle from decades ago. That, in and of itself is a pretty impressive feat but when you in the process of recapturing that fleeting moment also manage to create a nearly perfect album, ample words need to be written.

 4.5/5


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