Keys And Vices – Chronic Nostalgia – Album Review
Been checking this record out happily all week long, Keys And Vices have a fantastic energy goin’ on. In fact, it was only last week that we featured the three-piece all up in our lineup on the SBS Podcast, unleashing their lead-single “Out Of My Head” for you all to hear out there. Not just a great tune, it’s also an excellent gateway into the rest of the record & the official first song you’ll hear on Chronic Nostalgia…it’s literally the door you go through to meet them on your way into the record…the ol’ first impression, if you will. They definitely made a memorable impact on me with “Out Of My Head,” the hooks are rock-solid and the performances from the entire band were clearly on the mark, tight, and passionate, led by the essential voice they’ve got up front on the microphone with singer Jennifer Valdez. If you read the bio they’ve got posted up on their main site, you’ll see right there in the text they’ve written that she’s the heartbeat of this three-piece…and while that’s probably accurate within the inside of this band and her voice is a massive part of their identity & signature sound – let it be said, she’s got exceptional players right there beside her at every moment, twist, & turn with Kevin McCarty on bass & Kris Ayala on drums. Not only are the skills balanced extremely well throughout this band when it comes to the musicianship, but they clearly also have a solid grip on the style they’re looking to create – it’s the kind of powerful unity in a band that you can hear immediately on display through the stunning way they attack the melody and roar & soar through “Out Of My Head.” No doubt, they set themselves a high standard immediately on Chronic Nostalgia by releasing this cut first…thankfully, they’ve got lots more to back it all up; “Out Of My Head” is so colorfully explosive & expressive, you’d almost wonder as an everyday listener about what could possibly come next or follow it up…believe me, Keys And Vices have got this.
“Running Away” works a warm & inviting sound as it builds, courtesy of the excellent rhythm section in such lockstep with Jennifer’s guitar & vocals…I love how you can so often hear that Keys And Vices are taking you somewhere when they make a song. In many ways, they actually remind me quite a bit of Thriving Ivory…there’s a similar punch in the melodies, music, and level of emotion in between them and Keys And Vices…something special about it that seems to speak straight to the soul or connect right to the heartstrings at all times. Solid bass from Kevin in the mix here that strengthens and thickens the sound of “Running Away” – and perhaps the ultimate fireworks come through its blazing finale, which brings the harmonies in the vocals right to the surface perfectly to create a brilliant energy at the end. Loving the split-second pause and drums right before surging straight into the chorus hooks, which are like…I mean…if this chorus doesn’t display the sonic & melodic force to be reckoned with that Keys And Vices truly are, I almost don’t know what would. This is a whole crew of fireworks disguised as musicians…they can detonate and explode into fantastic bursts of color and sound at any given moment – and they use this ability to their advantage perfectly throughout the structure & length of “Running Away,” drifting between the melodic chill of the verses and just blazing it up to extraordinary heights in the chorus. Very clear from these first two songs that Keys And Vices are into this record, full-on, 100%.
Valdez cruises into an oozing Shirley Manson-esque cool at the beginning of “Like An Anchor,” and similarly, I’d say Keys And Vices explore those same kind of dark, atmospheric vibes akin to Garbage throughout the verses of this second tune. No issues for me there…I’d probably lean towards the earlier-side of their catalog, but I’d be inclined to still call myself a fan of the old Alt/Electro/Grunge band to this day. The chorus brightens-up the vibe of “Like An Anchor” just enough so that we’re not all dragged down into the depths of turmoil that Jennifer is singing about, providing a good energy in contrast that gets some of the most expressive moments & colorful hooks you’ll find on this record. Good mix of ethereal eeriness, echoed smartly in the lyricism and the darkness you’ll find existing there as well; “Like An Anchor” is not exactly what you’d call one of them happy tunes, you see where I’m going with all this? It’s delightfully moody and flexes a magnificent slow-burning intensity that never leaves melody behind at any point – there is audibly always something to catch your attention in the music of Keys And Vices; it not only makes “Like An Anchor” an exceptional listen, it makes the whole album play in that fashion. Every tune on this record has something more than worthwhile for ya.
Like we’ve been saying from the drop & they’ve been saying themselves, the center of this band revolves around Jennifer’s spectacular vocals. In many ways, I completely agree with that assessment – I think the players are all great, but I can also hear & appreciate why it would be her voice & vocal-talents that could potentially set them apart from the rest of all the other bands out there. The story behind it all is actually quite unique when it comes to this record; both Kevin and Kris are featured on three of the songs & still fairly new to the official lineup of Keys And Vices at this point in their career, yet arguably, had they not stepped into roles full-time in the band and encouraged Jenn to get these tunes on the record, many of them might not have existed! So let it be said…you just never know where it is that your bandmates are gonna come in the handiest…even from the sidelines, they can still play a pivotal role. When I listen to “Twila” – all I can think is, YEP – Keys And Vices absolutely ‘get it’ – they know their sound, they know where to emphasize the uniqueness, they know exactly where to crank up the amplifiers, they know right when to dial it back a lil’ bit & give Jennifer some space to work her magic. On “Twila,” she takes it to a whole other level entirely…between this tune and “How Do I” to follow, she’s about to raise the stakes & standards yet again, despite how high up they’ve already been. That’s the thing about great artists & bands though dear readers, dear friends…there’s never any kind of real ceiling, just an illusion of one – and Keys And Vices are smashing through it without even blinking, fueled by their own incredible natural instincts for instrumentation & songwriting. This transcends a mere listening though – there’s no doubt about it at all – this is a full-on experience; I get actual chills listening to the way Valdez sings this song. “Twila” has her walking this fantastically fine-line between frantic, trembling, and an atom-bomb’s worth of stored energy that sounds like it could audibly detonate at any moment – which, is definitely something that Jennifer will do when switching gears between the verse and chorus of this cut. Right from those incredible guitar tones at the very beginning, to the exceptional accenting piano notes guiding the melody, the award-worthy performance of Valdez…”Twila” is relentlessly fascinating.
Using the loud/quiet dynamics to their advantage, the three-piece is back in action to blaze, sparkle, burn, and shine all throughout the intensity of “How Do I” – and when they hit the switch on this cut & crank-up the distortion, believe me, you feel it. Jennifer continues to be nothing short of absolutely remarkable and truly compelling to listen to lyrically – and I’d say that Kris has himself a really rock-solid highlight on the controlled pound he puts into this one from the drum throne as well. Questioning just about anything & everything, Valdez smolders & scorches the earth…you really can’t help but be continually amazed by the sound of her voice, but again, recognize these homies beside her have never let her down for a solitary second either – Kris and Kevin bring the heat to the tunes they’re featured on and provide the steadiest platform possible, which gives Jennifer every opportunity to really go for it & know they’ll be there in perfect time when she lands. Straight-up, she is ELECTRIFYING on this cut…the way she makes the title itself such a key part of the song and gives it such a malleable & bendy role, where she can sing “How Do I” over & over and we never even remotely get bored, is honestly incredible. Keys And Vices keep us on the edges of our seat with “How Do I” and continually raise the stakes along the way as they play this cut, again giving the final moments of the song that additional edge by giving it just a touch more variation in how the vocals are threaded into the mix & layers of harmonies rising strong at the end. Really impressive songwriting in this band that continually makes itself apparent – but it’d be all lost without the mind-blowing execution this band puts into their music & material, and Keys And Vices never drop that ball, like, ever. I’d be more than willing to bet on this band to go the distance right now if someone were to ask me for my ultimate assessment…the potential in Keys And Vices is beyond limitless, they’ve got everything they need to find every ounce of success they’re looking for, however they choose to define that.
It really comes down to commitment & performance-level…and when you look at it that way, what Keys And Vices are putting into their music is going to be really, really, tough for the rest out there to keep up to. Not listeners – no; we’ll all feel the same way about this crew and give them an enthusiastic, well-earned thumbs-up of approval I’m sure – I’m talking about the rest of the music-scene. Listen to the writing & execution on a cut like “Box Of Keys” for example…and recognize the stellar commitment & dedication to every detail you’re hearing…they’re not leaving anything out & they’re getting the most out of the maximum potential of each and every song – this is another highlight example of what Jennifer is capable of & brings to this band. “Box Of Keys” isn’t going to be a single – but listen to how bulletproof, entertaining, and sincerely captivating it is! Great build-up in this tune…you can practically hear the fog-machines pumping out a bit of extra smoke in a live setting…sidenote, MAN I’d LOVE to see this band LIVE…just sayin.’ Lyrically, I think you’ll find that “Box Of Keys” is amongst the most impressive…excellent storytelling here & amazing imagery & details in the words; combined with the incredible melody in the vocals and the theatrical/dramatic nature of the structure of this tune…it all stacks up to a seriously understated but epic song on Chronic Nostalgia. I mean, we’re talking downright symphonic at times here people! “Box Of Keys” kind of reaches for more in that respect, it’s a cut that supplies this album with additional versatility in all the right ways, branching out to the edges of their sound without threatening the cohesion of the record.
Tracks like “Count Back” make me wanna sit in the studio with this crew and watch the magic come together, however it does. Because that’s the thing here…I love it when I can hear things I can’t quite explain or figure out 100% how they’d work, or be recorded…like for example, whatever’s happening the guitars in the verses of “Count Back” is straight-up sonically awesome…and I’m completely unsure of how the heck they’ve done it. Like to be completely honest, it’s such a different twist on the sound, that I’m only marginally sure it’s even guitar that I’m digging on to begin with – it could be something else entirely. Sounds like…man…SO COOL…it’s like…like a rattling of the strings almost, but used so impressively that it actually makes a TON of sense in the mix and ends up carrying a significant portion of the song at times. I’ll put it to you this way…I freakin’ love me some “Count Back” – it’s a great song; and if I was to examine where I’d put this in the list of what I love on this record, it might actually be towards the bottom of it – can you believe that? But here’s the thing – what might be the selections you, or I, or anyone determine to be the songs that took longest to grow on them or seem to like just a little bit less than the others – by COMPARISON to the spectacular material all throughout this album – would EASILY be A-sides and lead-singles from just about any other record you could find out there. So I don’t want anyone out there getting me wrong – I love “Count Back” just about as much as I love everything else on this record – we’re talking fractions of marginal difference separating favorites; I can hear there might be a little less for the people to latch onto, but perhaps more for the music-heads & musicians out there by that same token. Still get tons of big bold hooks and really well-crafted melody that I’m pretty sure everyone out there will connect with on some level or other, whether it’s for the parts you can sing along with or the uniqueness you’ll find in the music, there’s lots here to love.
I feel like I’ve made sure to give Kevin & Kris the props they’ve earned & deserve…I know the people out there in the critic-circuit are gonna focus on Jennifer for the most-part…and I get that – I’m sure the boys in Keys And Vices get it too. And for what it’s worth…I think they prove that with “Ghost Love” at the end of the album, where it’s just Jennifer left alone with her piano and voice; it’s almost as if, as a band, Kris and Kevin were right there, maybe even about to play along with her…and then ALL of time just stopped. All of a sudden, Jennifer started singing and playing THIS. And though I’m creating a theory & fictional legend here in terms of how this all went down – I can still picture the band just kind of standing there, staring, in complete awe – just like how we listen to Valdez singing this final song. When you’re in the presence of true greatness, quite often the best decision is to just stand back and let it do what it does – and here in this intimate setting, Jennifer more than rises to the occasion at the end of Chronic Nostalgia with a seriously breathtaking performance on “Ghost Love.” They’ve all earned a moment in the spotlight with their performances throughout this record – it’s through the respect they have between them that it becomes such a natural fit to feature Valdez on her own at the end. They’ve given her the wheel to steer the ship towards success throughout this record and let her vision for Keys And Vices thrive and blossom…now with Kris and Kevin onboard full-time, the band is bound to evolve even more from here. It’s all a reflection of their confidence in what they’re creating together, and likely a mix of the same amazement & wonder we all experience when listening to Jenn sing. “Ghost Love” is the most bare on the record, the most dependent on Jennifer bringing her A-game…the success on this one tune will confirm for you that she’s always got that with her in her suitcase, wherever she goes – BAM – A-GAME. Just like that. The consummate professional and a true voice that is going to resonate powerfully in the scene with listeners worldwide – Jennifer leads Keys And Vices to an incredible finale on Chronic Nostalgia with “Ghost Love” that’s as haunting as it is purely gorgeous. A perfect ending to what’s essentially a flawless record played with noteworthy passion & skill, heart & soul, and a whole lot of unforgettable hooks; definitely a band on my radar from this point on, and I’m sure after listening, you’ll be feeling the same.
Find out more about Keys And Vices from their official website at: https://www.keysandvices.com
Join the thousands of bands & artists reviewed at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!