face to face
Face To Face are a rarity in the music world: A band that not only helped define a sound, but who continue to fine-tune their music with each subsequent release. This is undoubtedly true of the band’s tenth full-length No Way Out But Through, a melodic-punk masterpiece teeming with blistering guitar riffs, fleet-fingered basslines and vocal harmonies that are so infectious they’ll be rattling around your brain for weeks on end. Then again this should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Face To Face’s 30-year history. The band—guitarist/vocalist Trever Keith, bassist/background vocalist Scott Shiflett, guitarist Dennis Hill and drummer Danny Thompson—once again reject complacency and push their musical limits on the follow-up to 2016’s return-to-form, Protection. ”This lineup of Face To Face has been intact for well over a decade at this point and it’s the best lineup the band has ever had,” Keith explains. This connection and chemistry lies at the core of No Way Out But Through and is why the inherent energy on the album sounds so effortless.
While Face To Face’s sound is rooted in the West Coast punk genre they helped pioneer, No Way Out But Through raises the sonic bar when it comes to songwriting, arranging and musicianship. “On Protection, I was intentionally writing songs that were reminiscent of our first three albums but on this album I was able to try some different things. There’s a freshness and a newness to the way that these songs came together and I think that’s really evident when you’re listening to this album.” This time around, Keith was able to get out of his proverbial comfort zone by renting a cabin near Malibu, California, and holed up with Shiflett as they transformed a collection of their respective demos and ideas into the polished recording you hear today. Production-wise, the band teamed up again with Juno Award-winning producer Siegfried Meier and Davey Warsop (Foo Fighters, Green Day) and later mixed and mastered by Jason Livermore at the legendary Blasting Room studio. The result is an album that’s sound quality mirrors its sonic weight and is the best-sounding Face To Face album to date—a fact that’s even more impressive when you consider the fact that Keith recorded all of his guitar tracks in his home studio.
From the first notes of the opening salvo “Black Eye Specialist” to the melodic power of “Anonymous” and classic energy of the first single “No Way Out But Through,” the album is exactly what you want if you’re a Face To Face fan. “This is a more personal album for me and I feel a really strong connection with these songs,” Keith explains. Correspondingly while tracks like “Blanked Out” once again establish Shiflett as one of the most exciting bassists in punk rock, the band aren’t afraid to take chances on this album, most notably on the closer “Farewell Song,” which sees Face To Face exploring a different side of their songwriting. “Scott brought in that song and at first I was reluctant to work on it because I thought it sounded like The Cure or something,” Keith admits. “However as we were working on it I realized that this was a song I could pour myself into as an artist and I think it’s one of the strongest songs on the album.” Then again, this should come as no surprise from a band who followed up the punk rock holy trinity of Don’t Turn Away, BIg Choice and Face To Face with 1999’s experimental rock album Ignorance Is Bliss, the latter of which has become a cult favorite among fans over the years.
No Way Out But Through sees Keith, who has always been known for his motivational anthems, penning some of his most introspective lyrics to date. “I wouldn’t consider this to be a concept album but I did base each song on a thematic idea this time around,” he explains. These themes range from overcoming anxiety to self-acceptance, ideas that have been a constant aspect of Face to Face’s mission statement as their sound has constantly evolved. “I really like writing songs that are motivational or inspirational on their face but ultimately have a message that helps people become a better version of themselves,” he adds. This is strikingly evident on the album’s title track which urges the listener to “make up your mind and take up a side / there is no way out but there is a way through” over a relentless rhythm and chiming guitar line. “That song is really about meeting your problems head on and having the courage and strength to find solutions. That’s a philosophy that I have on life and it’s also a good summation of the songs on this album.”
While most bands celebrating their 30th anniversary are releasing reissues and retreading their past, Face To Face have crafted one of the most vital and energized albums of their career with No Way Out But Through. In fact, in many ways the album is the sound of a band hitting their stride with all cylinders firing. So what is the secret to Face To Face’s enduring vitality? “We’ve had our hiatus, we’ve made art records, we’ve made acoustic albums, but the best path for us has always been forward, and so here we are,” Keith summarizes. “We may be in our fifties now but we wanted to send a message that we are not mellowing out and that this is energetic, hard-hitting punk rock. We’re full-steam ahead as a band and as songwriters.” Ultimately that dedication to their craft is what makes Face To Face such an enduring act and No Way Out But Through is a sonic testament to that hard-won legacy. So crank it up and remember why you fell in love with Face To Face in the first place.