Face to Face, Laugh Now…Laugh Later

Face to Face, Laugh Now...Laugh Later

It’s been a decade now since the last “real” release from California pop-punk icons Face to Face, since way back in 2002 with How to Ruin Everything, and y’know, I was nervous. It’s not a stretch to declare that discovering Face to Face’s Don’t Turn Away shaped a lot of how I view punk rock in general, from the band’s out-and-out love of vocal melodies to the very concept that fist-in-the-air, full-speed punk could be about believing in yourself and finding out who you are.

Snicker if you want, but F2F were practically an emo band before emo bands even had a name; they played earnest, sincere, intensely personal music that wasn’t scared to wear its heart on its sleeve, and they played it at breakneck speed (which made for a lot of fast, fast driving in the car, believe me). It was brilliant, jaw-dropping stuff, defiant and empowering to an insecure kid with a future in flux.

Needless to say, that’s a hard bar to hit. And over subsequent releases, the band hit quite a few but missed others, resulting in uneven-sounding albums like Big Choice and Face to Face that left me, at least, wishing there was more. And then they broke up, and it felt bitter and raw — when I interviewed frontman/guitarist Trever Keith back in 2005, he made it sound like a reunion was about as likely as, say, The Pixies reuniting. (Hey, wait…) So that was it; a couple of great albums/EPs, and then nothing after ever quite matched up to the band’s early, fiery days.

‘Til now, anyway, with Laugh Now…Laugh Later. It feels strange to say, but after being apart for so long, Keith, bassist Chad Yaro, Scott Shiflett, and new drummer Danny Thompson are firing on all cylinders, and it’s pretty incredible. From the galloping, head-snapping start of “Should Anything Go Wrong” onward, Face to Face burns through a half-hour’s worth of ferociously throwback pop-punk that makes me want to pump my fist and jump around the room like that impressionable kid I used to be.

That same self-reliant bitterness is fully intact, too, ably demonstrated on tracks like the challenging “Stopgap” and the snarling, sarcastic “It’s All About You,” which manages to be rough-edged and awesomely catchy at the same time, with a great sing-song-y vocal line. Even the slower stuff works — in spite of my misgivings, I should add — as on “The Invisible Hand,” all sweet and slow-stepping, with lots of “whoa-oh-oh” gang backing vocals, and the confessional “All For Nothing.”

With Laugh Now…Laugh Later, the band even takes a stab as a track or two that are more overtly political than the band’s previous stuff (although it’s not real clear which direction they’re pointing). “Bombs Away,” for one, is a strident, take-no-prisoners call to arms that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Strike Anywhere album, and some of the other tracks make me think of Anti-Flag if that band were a bit less specific in its goals.

The personal stuff’s where it’s at, though, for sure. There’s the desperate, pleading, Alkaline Trio-esque “What You Came For,” the chunky-sounding “Blood In the Water,” and the aforementioned opener “Should Anything Go Wrong” (which poses itself like instructions for an emergency switch but hints at the betrayal of a former friend and the inability to help), and then there’s “I Don’t Mind and You Don’t Matter,” which chimes beautifully along before transmuting into something resembling a Dynamite Boy song.

It’s a sweet, snarky kiss-off of a song, but I’m not sure who or what it’s directed at, whether it’s a friend, lover, The Scene, or the world at large. With a headshake and a grin, Keith dismisses all of ’em, echoing the first Face to Face song I ever heard, “A-OK,” when he declares, “It’s never really been about what they think, anyway.” Damn right. Welcome back, guys; I’ve missed y’all.

[Face to Face is playing 6/2/11 at Warehouse Live, along with Strung Out, Blitzkid, & The Darlings.]
(People Like You Records -- 2323 W. El Segundo Blvd., Hawthorne, CA. 90250; http://www.peoplelikeyourecords.com/; Face to Face -- http://www.facetofacemusic.com/)
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Review by . Review posted Thursday, June 2nd, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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