Articles for the Month of November 2014

Anyone Care for a Slice?

Although this Album has been out for a few months already, it is time to review “Underground” by The Last Slice.  The Last Slice is a 5-piece combo hailing from the Tulsa OK area and has been playing their version of ska since roughly 2008. “Underground” follows their 2012 release “Fresh Cuts.” Let’s have a little listen shall we?

  1. “Sea of Unknown”-“Sea of Unknown” is not quite punky, but yet packs more oomph than a slower, more traditional ska song.  While the singer can certainly stand on his own, he harmonizes well with the other vocals.  Great song!  Grade: A
  2. “Blind Date”-I really dig the use of the organ in this song.  It is found subtly in the background, but adds to the overall feel of the song.  Grade: A-
  3. “Seamless and Perfect”-Continuing right along with that traditional ‘ska guitar’, this song packs a similar punch as “Sea of the Unknown.”  It’s time to hit the dance floor with this number.  Don’t miss the sweet guitar solo around the 2:20 mark.   Grade: A
  4. “Chicks a Trip”- This one goes full force with blazin’ horns from the get go. I can see wanting to listen to this one over and over.  So far this is the front-runner for the best tune on the disc.  Grade: A+
  5. “Paulio”-“Paulio” slows things down with this slow-jam of a song.  I was unsure from the start, but I like this song.  In fact, I like it a lot.  So kick back, soak in the great harmonies and enjoy the ride.  Grade: A
  6. “Lincoln”-This song is a bit more aggressive than the previous ones, and is a pretty solid tune from start to finish. With so many great songs on this album they cannot all be my favorite and “Lincoln” is not my fave.  :  Grade: B+
  7. “Riot Radio”- This song is reminiscent of the ska-infused songs sung by Rancid (with much better vocals).  Again, around the 2 minute mark, don’t miss the saxophone solo as well as frequent rhythm changes throughout the song:  Grade: B+
  8. “Holiday”-Despite this being another slow song, this will make you want to skank from the comfort of your barstool (if that’s even possible).  This is one holiday you will surely want to take.  Grade: A
  9. “Strike”-Don’t get too comfortable!  This number is in your face with prominent organs and horn section.  This runs a close second to “Chicks a Trip.”  Grade: A
  10. “Artificial Krab”-The horn line in this one kind of reminds me of a game-show song.  Also the organs really stick out on in this one as well.  Grade: B+
  11. “She Knows”- An album wouldn’t be complete unless there was a drinkin’ song.  Not a rowdy drinking song mind you, but a “sit back and have a beer” drinking song.  Nice job gents!  Grade: A-
  12. “Underground”- Even with this last song, The Last Slice does not slow down the energy with this one.  Again, not my favorite song, but really solid vocals and instrumentation found throughout.    Grade: B+

Although this band has been around for several years, I just discovered them on the Ska Revival Compilation, volume 1.  This comp.  featured “Chicks a Trip” and was by far my favorite song on the disc.  This should come as no surprise as that is probably the strongest song on “Underground” as well.  In their Bim Skala Bim meets the Planet Smashers style, The Last Slice puts together an almost flawless album.  Let’s first talk about the instrumentation.  There is excellent use of the horn section as well as the organ.  If I am being nitpicky, I prefer bands with a trumpet as they can produce higher pitch sounds.  This being stated, they do make great use of the trombone and saxophone, taking care not the cancel the trombone out with the more mellow sound of the sax.  While instrumentation is certainly important and is the genre deciding part of the entire package, vocals are what set bands apart.  Vocals are what make me decide whether I hate a band or like a band.  They determine whether I like a band or love a band.   A lot of bands in the ska genre sound similar to each other, but The Last Slice’s lead singer, catapults them to the top of the heap.  He harmonizes well, but yet can stand alone, as mentioned previously. He can also pull off edgier songs as well as slower numbers such as “Paulio” and “Holiday.”  Overall this is a great, great record that is one of the best I have heard this year.  For those of you who think ska is dead, The Last Slice’s “Underground” will definitely prove you wrong.    Overall Grade: A

Free Ska Tunes!

After playing music for 8 years, “The Bosswich” from Ontario Canada has called it quits. They have offered both their 2009 LP entitled “Fun-2-3-4” and their 2012 EP “Eat Me” as free downloads on their website. While it’s always sad to see a band go, at least they left us with some fun tunes. Check them out!         http://thebosswich.com/album/fun-2-3-4

Who is Ready for Some Bad Pizza?

The Skunkadelics from San Lorenzo, CA have just released their first LP entitled “Almost as Good as Bad Pizza” and is a follow up to their 2013 EP “It’s always Skunky.” The Skunkadelics have been a band since 2009 (according to their Facebook Page), but I must admit, this is the first time I have ever heard of them. Let’s not put this off any longer…

1. “Yolanda”-“Yolanda” starts out with a horn-heavy blast and then quickly melds into the kind of ska you can’t just sit and listen to. Right out of the gate, this album starts with a great dancing song. BTW the Oh, Oh Oh’s in the background are a nice touch as well. Grade: B+

2. “Rude Boy”- After drying off the sweat from the skank session induced by the first song, this next song has more of a chill feel to it. This ditty is perfect for listening to while kicking back and sipping a cold beer (or beverage of choice). Grade: B+

3. “Da Hallow”-This song has a similar feel to “Rude Boy” but with almost a slightly darker undertone to it. But wait, the song changes around the 2:40 where the band really “picks it up” with more aggressive vocals and ska guitar. Also don’t miss the killer organ and sax solos. Grade: A

4. “Time”- A classic 90’s ska is found in “Time.” A toe-tapper for sure. Grade: A-

5. “Step Away”-Overall this is a good song, but is not one of my favorites. The vocals seem a little too relaxed, and could pack a little more punch. I do really appreciate the instrumentals at the end of the song . Grade: B

6. “Oblivious”- Let’s slow things down again with this slow groove of a song. The strength and range of the lead singer’s voice are showcased more in this song than probably any other up to this Album. Grade: B

7. “I Know”-This song is a battle dance between garage rock and ska. Although there were not instrument solos, this is still a pretty solid track. Grade: A-

8. “Circles”- Clocking in at only 1:21, this is the shortest track on the album. This being said, it’s a fun, catchy little tune. I dig it! Grade: B

9. “Graveyard Stomp”-Stomp out onto the dance floor with this catchy, upbeat song. I almost hate giving such a high score to an instrumental from a band that has vocals in the rest of their songs, but damn this song is hot. Grade: A

10. “Get Outta My Head”- This song is on par with the rest of the album and I strong way to finish. Even though this is the closing track, it never tires as it switches between faster and slower rhythms throughout the song. Grade: B+

After listening to “Almost as Good as Bad Pizza,” I was extremely disappointed that I had not heard of this band sooner. This was a great listen. Technically speaking, this album is on par with any recording out there. It does not feel over-produced, but also does not have that “ I recorded this in my bathroom” feel either. Musically, the Skunkadelics play like seasoned pros that could open for or even headline with any in the ska scene today (despite this only being their first full length album). It seems as if some bands will craft their songs with the guitar and drums and then the horn parts seem to be an afterthought. In contrast, the musical arrangement on this album seems well thought out having all the members of the band working as one cohesive unit. While “Almost as Good as Bad Pizza,” doesn’t venture very far from the ska path, they do steer clear from mediocrity with changing rhythms often during songs and prominent musical solos. I am also a sucker for any band that uses an organ/keyboard; kudos for that. In closing, this is a great album from a great and talented band. I look forward to the Skunkadelics leading the charge towards a 4th wave! Overall Grade: A-

Take 4 Aspirin and Call me in the Morning!

As a follow up to their 2011 EP “Midwest Excess” I bring you the debut full-length from 4 Aspirin Morning (4AM). 4AM has been bringing their punk infused ska (or is it ska infused punk?) from Madison, WiSKAnsin since 2009. In just 5 years as a band, they have gained much recognition in the Madison area and have opened up for some of the biggest names in the genre (Mustard Plug, The Toasters, and the Mad Caddies). Without further ado, I bring you “Ca$h Poor, Liquor Rich!”

1. “Welcome to the Neighborhood”- 4AM starts out with a drunken bar-brawl of a song in the style of the Dropkick Murphys (sans bagpipes of course). The horns are blaring and in your face near the start and fill out the rest of the song amongst the raucous backing vocals. Grade: B+

2. “Carve the Sky”- This tune has a definite 90’s ska-punk sound created not only by the excellent horn section, but also by the guitar as well. Speaking of the guitar, don’t miss the sweet solo at the 2 minute mark, followed by the trumpet. The lead singer sounds like an angrier version of the vocalist from Culture Cry Wolf. Grade: B+

3. “Cemetery Song”-If one song can raise ska from the dead, it would be this one. Great horn section that will drive you into the mosh pit for sure. Grade: A-

4. “Dig a Hole”- After what looks to be a pretty classic punk song, 4AM slows things down (just a tad). Around the 2 minute mark is where all hell breaks loose! Overall, a decent song, but not my fave. Grade: C

5. “3 Chords…” Another song in the vein of the 3rd wave style, but still pretty hard. I really enjoy how one horn plays a slightly different part then the rest. Nice job on this “kick to the teeth of a song”. Grade B

6. “Super 77”-This song features great use of the saxophone. Too often bands have their sax player play along with the brass, thus muting the overall sound. The sax works as a great stand-alone instrument during part of this song. Grade: B+

7. “YSHBA”- Another sloppy drunk song, which reminds of a song that inebriated pirates, would sing. The raspy, growly vocals really add to the overall feel of the song. Grade: B+

8. “Sidesteppin”-Overall, I like this song. I like it a lot; crunchy guitars and great horn lines. I’m not sure if growly vocals really match the instrumentals, but all in all this is a solid tune. Grade: B

9. “This is it”-this one has more of a 90’s alternative feel (with horns) vs. a punk or hardcore vibe. This song is amazing. Nothing more to say. Grade: A

10. “Anarchy Cake”-This little ditty has a more of a pop-punk feel with similar vocal stylings to “This Is It.” Another amazing tune. Grade: A

11. “Goodbye to Good Intentions”- With a nice mix and of singing and screaming, this is one scorcher of a song to close things off. Don’t miss the killer guitar solo at the 3 minute mark. Grade: B+

After listening to this album, it is easy to draw many comparisons to other, more seasoned bands in both the ska and punk worlds. I have listed some of these bands above, but I can also see some similarities to Anti-Flag as well. If I had to pick one band that 4AM sounds the most like, it would be the Insyderz, both with their hard-hitting instrumentation and similar vocal styles. The lead singers in both of these bands have quite the vocal range, and can switch between powerful singing voices and raspier, more growling type vocals. The only critique I have of “Ca$h Poor, Liquor Rich” is that I did not resonate as much with the raspier vocal style used in some of the songs, as I did with the vocal style used in “This Is It” and “Anarchy Cake.” The more hardcore vocal sound seems to work in some songs like “YSHBA” but does seem to match the theme of the music in such songs as “Sidesteppin” and “Dig a Hole.” This is mostly just personal preference and there have been several ska acts along the way that have adopted a more raw sound (Think Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Slapstick and The Voodoo Glow Skulls).
Technically speaking, this album sounds great and is on par, if not better, than some of the recordings by seasoned veterans of the genre. Each member’s part is heard clearly and does not drown out any other members’ part. The horns are in your face, as they should be, as some ska bands have these more subdued in the background.
Musically, I was very impressed with not only the horn section but the guitarist as well. As mentioned earlier in this review, a lot of saxophonist tend to drown out the brass section which takes away much of the punch. Not here; the mellow sounds of the sax and accompanied nicely by the more blaring trombone and trumpet. One thing that gets lost is sometimes in ska is the musicianship of the guitar player, as they are stuck playing either the classic “ska guitar” riffs for endless punk power chords. Again, not the case here. Several songs feature killer solos which add to the entire package.
4AM certainly has the musical chops to play with the backing of larger record companies such as Fat Wreck Chords, Epitaph Records or Even Asian Man records. While this is only their freshman LP, 4AM can hang their heads high, and can stand toe to toe with ska’s heaviest hitters. Look forward to seeing them at a Warped Tour Stage near you! Overall Grade: B+

So what did you think? Share it my friend!

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