Keys And Vices are something of a Trojan horse. Hidden within the confines of a band with a cryptic name and fronted by a deceptively talented lady is a power-trio that can rock the socks off of any audience and probably any band they share a bill with. Stacked with massive riffs and sweet hooks, their “Chronic Nostalgia” is a monumental step in their recording career. With beefy production that highlights the tight dynamic between front-lady Jennifer Valdez (Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Lyrics), bassist Kevin McCarty and drummer Kris Ayala, the band’s first full-length offering packs enough punch to dominate modern rock, alternative, indie, or whatever radio, while still sounding as if it could have fit right at home somewhere alongside the legendary alternative rock bands from the 90’s.
No doubt, the all-encompassing aesthetic is intentional, and the band pulls it off with flying colors. Valdez’s vocals can be hushed yet powerful, or soaring above the wall of sound created by their beefy cuts. Relentlessly energetic through and through, “Chronic Nostalgia” offers a few reprieves in the form of slower-simmering rhythms.
Through it all, the band keeps the energy going, and never is there a moment or a second of sound wasted. Like the band’s three members playing together, the 10 tracks all lock into each other perfectly. Who says the album format has to die when band’s like Keys And Vices can produce them so effortlessly?
If you like guitars that are still loud and proud, driven home by a relentless rhythm section and a powerfully nuanced vocalist, Keys And Vices will likely become a mainstay in your own rotation. This is the type of album that deserves a few listens. At first it will sound good, by the second listen you’ll start loving it.
On the third play through you’ll be left breathless as each little gem undercovers itself almost totally. The dynamism is what’s really key to keeping this set engaging. The songs dart in unexpected directions in their minute revolutions from verse to chorus.
“Out of My Head” opens with a jangly guitar figure under-girding Valdez’s hazy, vocals before concentrating into increasingly harsher riffs, propelled by Ayala’s galloping drum beat. Keys And Vices pack a lot of movement into three to four minutes, but the compositions never feel cluttered or jarring.
“Running Away” showcases the incredible range Valdez’s vocals, while her guitar growls to the sound of McCarty’s deep bass and the thumping rhythm of the drums. This is a grinding and at times shimmering alt-rock story. “Like an Anchor” is not the jarring, straight to the face, guitar pounce, but a more mature, coil and choose when to strike delivery.
“Twila” is a mid-tempo piano-driven soundscape which serves as an appetizer, and lead-in, to the most epic, towering track on the album – “How Do I”, which to me is the absolute centerpiece of this recording. In Jennifer Valdez you have a frontwoman who is as cocksure as she is enigmatic.
She possesses a talent that outshines the mere craftsmanship of her peers, and she lays it all down on this salaciously bombastic grinder, together with Kris Ayala’s strident drums and the subtle brilliance of Kevin McCarty’s bass playing. Herein lay the difference between Keys And Vices and so many of their contemporaries. There is no posturing, no attempt to look cool for the sake of it. It’s all about the music.
Amidst the majority of the edgy sounds that cover the record, the band slows it down with “Box of Keys”, and then light up the synths on “Count Back”, before cutting right back to the bare-knuckled piano and vocals on “Ghost Love”.
If nothing else, these final three songs presents what a lot of bands of this generation are lacking—a strong lead figure and dynamic performer. You won’t want to miss a single minute of Jennifer Valdez’ mind-blowing performances on “Chronic Nostalgia”.
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