Articles for the Month of January 2015

Welcome to Canada, it’s the Maple Leaf State!

A relative newcomer to the ska scene is Francbâtards from Montreal Canada.  Formed in 2012, this 8-piece band blends several other music genres such as reggae, and hip hop into their own mix of ska.  Their self-titled debut album dropped at the end of 2014.  Let’s do this…

  1. “Déracinés des Hommes”-After starting out with a haunting,“nightmarish” vibe, Francbâtards effortlessly blends rap with a dirty reggae sound.  The instrumentation is excellent here, showcasing not only the horns and guitar, but the percussion as well.  Grade: B+
  2. “Rude Boy”-  There is a lot going on with this tune, with its changing melodies, and switching between French and English.  Throw some swank, some good old-fashioned dance grooves and just a pinch of spaghetti western into a blender and you have “Rude Boy.”  This song is a great time.   Grade: A-
  3. “Bulletin Spécial”-While the rapping seems a bit more cumbersome in this tune, I like the overall Spanish flavor of this song.  The horns are really fantastic along with the percussion, much like “Déracinés des Hommes.”  Grade: B
  4. “Errance”-Let’s start this one off with a sweet jazz-inspired trumpet solo!  The raspy vocals add a nice contrast to the otherwise smooth instrumentals.  I also appreciate how this number changes rhythms throughout.  Grade: B
  5. “Mouton Noir”- This song makes me feel like I am running from the bulls in Pamplona.  Classic Hispanic stylings lace this track at every turn.  Grade: A
  6. “Enrage”-“Enrage” is a kick to the face kind of ska song.  I really like the trading off of vocals at the 2-minute mark.  Grade: B+
  7. “Ce Soir”-This song is definitely not in French, but rather in Spanish.  This one is heavy on the rapping type vocals but again blends many styles with ease.  Grade B+
  8. “Lehoua”- “Lehua” slows things down a bit from the get-go but then progressively adds speed and aggressiveness.  Although it feels a tad long, it is a good song none the less.  Grade: B+

 

It can be a tricky business blending several musical styles to form one cohesive sound.  However, Francbâtards does just that in this impressive debut album.  While I did not resonate as much with the more rap-infused songs, there is a lot to appreciate here.  This “north of the border band” can play “south of the border” sounding songs like true Mexican natives.  The instrumentals are top notch and I especially enjoy the songs featuring the conga (or are they bongo?) drums.  Many songs switch rhythms throughout which is no easy task either.  While I don’t think there are any songs boasting crunchy punk-rock guitars, the vocalist alone creates a gruff, edgy feel juxtaposed with smooth melodies.  Even if you don’t speak French this “dirty reggae” disc packs a punch!  Overall Grade: B+

We’re All Friends Here, Aren’t We?

From Ontario Canada, the 4-piece ska-punk unit High Top Society has dropped their debut album entitled “We’re All Friends Here.” This north of the border band brings 5 years of experience to the table with this musical offering. Let’s check it out…

1. “Wise Wizard”-treading down familiar punk territory with crunchy guitars, the mood quickly changes into a true skankin’ song. While I didn’t see it listed anywhere, I could detect a little organ towards the end of the song. This, along with the backing vocals makes this one great tune! Grade: A-

2. “Let’s Get Weird”-Raise your beers in the air for pub anthem song. Again High Top Society transitions nicely between the styles of punk and ska. Grade: B+

3. “Day-O”-Pop-punk at its finest. While the lead singer seems to belt things out more on this more than the previous songs, it is never strained or forced, nor does it take away from the quality of the music in the least. Another great song guys! Grade: A-

4. “Veggie Bill”-If you have been listening to ska for any length of time, than you’ve probably heard a hundred songs that start out as this one does. But it is not how you start that’s important, but how you finish. This song does just that. I really like the switching of vocal qualities between a more mellow tone and one of Anthony Kiedies-esque quality. Grade B+

5. “All Girls Ask That”-HTS finishes things off with another solid tune, with a killer guitar solo around the 2 minute mark. This one will make you move your feet, especially towards the end. Grade: B+

 

While I’m normally not a fan of ska-punk bands without a horn section, this EP really surprised me. While many bands fall on their face by creating a really hardcore punk sound, High Top Society sticks to what they do best and that’s more of a poppy-punk sound interlaced with traditional ska guitar licks. It is demonstrated in each and every song that High Top Society can certainly hold its own without the added instrumentation. Despite clocking in at only 12 minutes over 5 tracks, “Were All Friends Here” packs a major punch. These guys are the real deal! Overall Grade: B+/A-

Everything is Copacetic

Skankin’ in Providence RI is the one and only Copacetics. Their 8-piece ska army has been around since 2010 and is about to release their self-titled debut album. I am eagerly pressing the ‘play button’ on this one…

1. “Blood from a Stone”-“Blood from a Stone” starts out with a horn-heavy blast and switches effortlessly between piano and organ. There is also equal time given to the amazing solos done by the saxophone and the trombone. Let’s not forget the backing vocals either. This album starts out with a bang! Grade: A

2. “By the Hand”-The pace slows a bit with this next number, but the Copacetics pull this off as well. If there were any ballads in the ska world, this would be it. Like the last song, “By the Hand” features some excellent instrumentals near the end of the song. Grade: A

3. “Conquest of Cool”- While I would never listen to entire album of instrumentals, they are nice to have to break things up a bit. A nice showcasing of the horn section, and danceable beat, set this instrumental apart from others in the genre. Nice work! Grade: A-

4. “Dubutation”-While I’m not normally a huge fan of the dub style of ska/reggae, I dug this song. The Copacetics created a song that is both haunting and space-like at the same time. While there aren’t many lyrics, there is a lot going on here. Grade: B+

5. “Howl at the Moon”- The Copacetics change gears once more with this classic neo swing song. While the piano keeps the beat, the backing vocals add to the overall flavor of this great song. Grade: A-

6. “Pickles Dub”-Another song done in the classic dub style. I would have been ok with just one dub on this album, but this song is alright. Grade: B

7. “Reputation”-This one starts out with a ‘tango’ sort of feel and then paces forward with a classic beat. The vocals in this number are less raspy than other songs on this album. In fact, they have a smooth quality that melds with the instrumentals. This song is amazing! Grade: A

8. “Same Mistakes”-Ahh, the raspiness comes back in this classic ska song. While this certainly doesn’t stand out amongst the other great songs on this disc, it is not slouch either. Grade: A-

9. “Summer’s Coming”-This is another “smooth-as-butter-vocals” with a “let’s drive to the beach” sort of the feel. While the subject matter might be a little light-hearted, the same cannot be said about the musical qualities of the song. Grade: A

10. “Time Hard”-This is a song that everyone can relate to. So grab a beer, wallow it your self-pity about your job for just a second, and then hit the dance floor. Grade: A-

11. “Versions Coming”-While the “Jamaican sounding guest vocalist” has been overdone in the genre, it just fits here. Nice job Riki. Grade: B+

12. “When the Sun Goes Down”- With its Jimmy Buffet meets King Django sound, , this feels like it should have been the last song on the album. Although a relaxing groove of sorts, it is an excellent song none the less. Grade: A-

13. “Why”-With its cool organ sound and vocals, this song is hot. Nice way to finish things off Grade: A

Only a few months into the 2015, and the Copacetics have hit a home run with their debut album. As a whole, the album is recorded/mixed well and has that professional sound of a band that has been at this a very long time. What really impresses me the most about this album is the variety of styles represented, between traditional ska, dub and even swing. This is a feat that some more experienced bands cannot pull off. As mentioned earlier, I probably could not sit through (or skank through) an entire album of dub or instrumental songs, but this added to the ever-changing feel of the album, and is its greatest strength. The instrumentals are top-notch both when playing together and during the solos. I really appreciate the fact that almost every instrument between the organ, guitar and horns has their own solo some point along the way. While the raspy vocals certainly are not grating or annoying, I feel that the lead singer is at his best during some of the more mellow numbers such a “Reputation” and “Summer’s Coming.” None the less this is a great album that I want to listen to again and again. Although this is their first release, The Copacetics are head and shoulders above many bands in the scene today. I know it’s way too early to say, but this will be a definite contender for best ska album of 2015. Overall Grade: A-

Will the Revolution Come?

I would like to introduce you to A Minor Revolution from Dover New Hampshire(who knew NH had a ska scene?). They are a 5 piece band bringing their punked- up version of ska to the people through two newer releases. One is an EP entitled “Consexual Sense” and the other is also an EP split with the band The Digs, entitled “Worst Human Being on the Planet.” Let’s check them out…

Consexual Sense

1. “Andy Adores Apologies”- Starting with the familiar ska guitar rhythm you all know and love, the backing sax and crowd vocals really make this song pop. Grade B+

2. “Cape Abel”- “Cape Abel” picks up where “Andy” left off, creating a dark, haunting sound with the drums from the start. Overall, this is a solid punk song. I only wish I could hear the sax a little bit more in this one. Grade: B

3. “F-Bombs”- Raaawrrr, punk rock! This is your classic punk rock song. I’m not sure if there were any horns on this number, but I’m not sure if it needed them anyways. Grade: B

4. “Trouble Shifting”- This song switches effortlessly between classic ska guitar and punk rock shredding. The sax is nicely used especially with the runaway solo around the 2 minute mark. Grade: B+

5. “Yesterday Afternoon”-The saxophone is definitely the star of this song. It gives this otherwise solid tune, that little extra pizzazz. Grade: B+

Worst Human Being on the Planet (Split)

1. “Analog Ring” (A Minor Revolution)- The lead vocalist really belts things out with more of a gravely voice on this one vs. other songs. Although I appreciate the horns and guitar parts on this, this song is just alright. Grade: C

2. “Foaming at the Palm” (A Minor Revolution)- This song has a great beat that builds tension until all hell breaks loose close to the 2 minute mark. A dirty sex-romp of a song and a helluva good time. Grade: B+

With its two recent albums “Consexual Sense” and “Worst Human Being on the Planet,” A Minor Revolution sets itself apart from the countless punk bands out there with the saxophone that accompanies most of their songs. Because the saxophone has more of a mellow tone than that of a trumpet, or trombone, many bands tend to drown out this instrument. A Minor Revolution, however, does a great job of highlighting this aspect of their sound (an entire horn section might be great, but they do just fine with the one horn). While they can certainly pull off the punk with horns sound, it is the songs done with more of a “third wave ska guitar sound” that truly resonated with me. It is songs like “Andy Adores Apologies” and “Yesterday Afternoon” is where they truly shine. While there overall sound could use a little polishing, there is certainly enough variety in these songs to show off their musical range. I would say that if you enjoy the music of 4 Aspirin Morning, than you will Enjoy A Minor Revolution as well. There are some good things happening here and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for A Minor Revolution. Keep these guys on your radar! Overall Grade: B

Let’s Get Baked!

Relatively new to the scene is the 7-piece combo Baked Potatoes from Oneonta New York. They have just unleashed their brand of ska/reggae/punk in their debut EP entitled, “Waiting for the Weekend.” Let’s check it out…

1. “Neon Top”- After hearing the steel drums at the start of the song, I knew I was in for something refreshingly different. While the lyrics are sung with a “high school boy’s mentally”, this is still a great groove that puts you in the mood to soak up the hot rays on the beach. Grade: B+

2. “Going Through the Motions”- With prominent horns throughout, this ditty is more soulful with a traditional rocksteady beat. I enjoy the vocals and great harmonies in this song more than the first. The guitarist can also certainly hold his own as proven by the sweet solo at the 2 minute mark. Grade: A-

3. “Seeding”- “Seeding” is of slower pace than the previous tracts in the style of dub. I’m not normally a fan of the echo and manipulation of sounds in dubstyle, but with its vocal harmonies and subdued horn parts, this song just works. Grade: A-

4. “Quicksand”- While not a ska song per se, this song will definitely make you want to groove. Take 2 parts “jam band” and add 1 part “horns” with just a pinch of “psychedelic” and you have “Quicksand.” Another solid track. Grade: B+

It’s always fun to discover new bands and discovering Baked Potatoes was no exception. Although being a newer band, their overall sound is unlike any I’ve heard in the genre, mixing various types of musical styles. Although it contains only four songs, Waiting for the Weekend’s greatest strength is that each song is distinct and does not sound like any other song on the album. This is a feat that even some seasoned bands cannot pull off. Also the vocals are smooth with carefully crafted instrumentals that make the entire album fit together. My only critique of this album was that it is too short. Just as I was wondering what the next song would sound like, it was over. I do, however, appreciate a band getting their material out there and trying to make a name for themselves, instead of waiting to record an entire LP. Baked Potatoes has shown that they do not have to stick to the beaten path of traditional ska or reggae or punk. They can easily pull off different musical styles with success, much like the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies or the Mad Cadies (a couple of my favorites) and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them. Waiting for the Weekend is a genre-bending, musical grab-bag that will tease fans, making them beg for more. Grade: A-

So what did you think? Share it my friend!

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