Articles for the Month of February 2015

The Proof is in the Pizza!

According to their Bandcamp site, Corporate Fandango is “a salubrious ska septet of kindred spirits that haunt the streets of Greensboro, NC.  I couldn’t have said it any better myself.  Anyway, earlier this month, Corporate Fandango released their third official release entitled, “The Proof is in the Pizza.”  Let’s check it out…

  1. “Just Like Today”- An interesting cross between a traditional upbeat ska song and garage rock.  I really enjoyed the horn parts; however, sometimes the vocals are a little difficult to hear over the instrumentation.  Grade: B-

 

  1. “Ode to the Rockefellers”- Starting out with an ode to the likes of Sherlock Holmes or Dick Tracy, this is a definite skankin’song.  After the aforementioned intro with muted instrumentations, the horn section quickly comes on with full force.  Aside from playing as a unit, the saxophone gets its chance to shine here.  Great song!  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Blow Up the Moon”- This song is an excellent cross between classic ska horns with space-age keyboards.  There is also a nice showcasing of both the saxophone and muted trumpet.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Open Your Mouth”- “Open Your Mouth” has a definite party-song feel, yet not lacking the garage type feel found in “Just Like Today.”  Although switching between punk rock guitars and ska guitars is a formula almost exhausted in the genre, this song is no slouch.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Paranormal Paranoia”-Once again, the horns are the stars of this song.  They add not only the ska feel but also, along with the more aggressive vocals, a hard-hitting  edge.  There is a slight dub feel wrapped up in the mix as well.  Grade: B

 

I must admit, this is one of the more unique bands that I have reviewed to date.  Many groups try to take the ‘ska sound’ and put their own spin on it and Corporate Fandango is no exception. While combing punk, or pop or funk with ska is nothing new, adding a gritty stripped-down and often psychedelic vibe to ska certainly is.  It truly is an interesting concept, which is difficult to explore over a course of only 5 tracks. Each song brings something different to the table, yet staying true to the roots of ska. None the less, I think Corporate Fandango maybe onto something here, even if at times it was not carried out to perfection (sometimes the vocals were hard to understand over the loud, punky guitar parts).  Overall, this is a fun EP, (with hopefully an LP in the works for the near future) with some familiar sounds mixed with something new; taking you on a musical trip you have never taken before.  But don’t take my word for it; the proof is in the pizza!  Overall Grade: B

Chilled Monkey Brains!

Taking their namesake from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” Chilled Monkey Brains released a new album towards the end of 2014. This new LP entitled “APEocalypse” is their third official release, following an LP in 2012(“We’re All in This Together”) and a self-titled EP in 2010. This 6-piece band hails from Tallahassee, Florida and has created a melting pot of music styles in their brand of ska. Let’s check out APEocalypse…

1. “Enter the Wasteland”-Thunder rolls, bells chime and a stripped-down acoustic guitar set the stage in this opening track. Quickly, the mood changes with heavier guitars and blaring horns. This song seems to have it all, backing vocals, gang vocals, horn solos and killer shredding guitars. What a great way to start this out! Grade: B+

2. “Thrashterpiece Theatre”-Feeling a little disjointed at times, this is still a pretty solid tune. Once again, the horns are given a time to shine. The use of the organ is no stranger to tradition ska/rocksteady music; however I have not heard much of it used with those in the ska-punk niche. It really adds something extra. I also really enjoyed the synthesizer part near the end of the song, making listeners tap into their inner Devo. Grade: B

3. “Note to Self”-From the screaming that starts out the song to the punchier vocals that carry the remainder of the tune, I just don’t care for the singing in this song. This is a shame because the rest of the song it top notch; from the backing vocals beginning the 1:50 mark, to the slick guitar parts and the horn arrangement, this song has a lot going for it. Grade: C

4. “Soldiers”-Sacrificing none of its hard-hitting nature, this one has more of a “radio- friendly” quality to it. Reminding me a little of Bad Religion (but with more punch) I really enjoyed the vocals in this one. Nice job. Grade: B+

5. “The Tale of Ramirez Depietro”- This is a colassal song, with lots of things happening all at once. Chilled Monkey Brains sticks to familiar territory with its blaring guitars and horns that will slap you across the face. This being stated, they also add that “pirate” feel near the halfway point with combination of instrumentation and vocal harmonies. Just when you thought they couldn’t pull any more punches, a funk feel, followed by crazy space-synth are added for good measure. This song is epic! Grade: A

6. “Illusions”-Pairing off between hardcore punk guitars and a traditional third wave ska guitar sound, “Illusions” will turn the moshing crowd into a skanking one for sure. This song also sets you up for the next on the album. Grade: B+

7. “Anaconda’s Delight”- What starts out as a slower number with bending guitar riffs, creeps into the gray area between speed metal and punk. A great song. Grade: A-

8. “Go Home and Be a Family Man”- I have not played video games since the SNES days, so this tune takes me back to one of my favorite games. Normally, instrumentals should be left to those in the traditional ska group, but the nostalgia factor certainly trumps this view. Grade: A-

9. “Snake”-Channeling some death-metal growling vocals, this is probably the hardest song so far. Again, I like the instrumentation, but the vocals struck out with me. Grade: C-

10. “Mongoose”-Carried over from “Snake,” this ditty features the similar vocal style as “Note to Self.” Not a bad tune, but again not my favorite: Grade: B-

11. “Gorilla Warfare”-This is not really much of a song in itself, but definitely sets the stage for this album’s final chapter. Grade: B

12. “Apeocalypse”- Chilled Monkey Brains showcases what they do best; changing pace and musical styles within the same song. The long intro makes the listener wonder what they are in store for. The aggressive vocals are contrasted nicely with the smooth jazz trumpet solo. Nice way to finish this album off. Grade: B-

Well let’s get this out of the way first. I do not like screaming or death-metal-like vocals. This is just personal preference and is the reason why I downgraded some of the songs. The risk you run when blending several musical styles is twofold: sure you create something that is truly unique, but will it appeal to a larger audience or a much smaller one. Other than the style of vocals, to me this is an amazing album; chock full of things that I have not heard yet in ska music (I have been listening to ska since 1996). I always appreciate a band that has perfected their craft even if it is within the narrow confines of a music style, however, every once in a while, a band comes along that is truly unique and that stands out in the crowd. This my friends, is Chilled Monkey Brains. They have effortlessly created a fusion of so many sounds (metal, punk, hardcore, ska, funk and synth-pop) into 12 cohesive songs, yet never losing the qualities of each individual part. The instrumental arrangements are one of a kind as well, with prominent horns at every twist and turn. This album will appeal most to those who like their ska loud, hard and fast, in the vein of Metallica and Slayer. With equal parts Mighty Mighty Bosstones, NOFX and Dragon Force, this 800 lb. gorilla in the room is a force to be reckoned with! Overall Grade: B

Dude…Sweet!

Today I introduce, Sweet Lucy, hailing from Staten Island, New York.  After forming in 2011, this new collection of songs, entitled “Metatonia,” is the first for the band.  Let’s have a little listen shall we?

 

  1. “Bad Day”- Followed by the brief intro, rocking guitar riffs come onto the scene.  This song has a classic 90’s rock and roll kind of feel.  Grade: B-

 

  1. “Conscience”-The whistling that starts out the song lets the listener know they are in for a change of pace from the first track.   This is a laid back summer jam of a song.  I dig it!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Pinnochio”- This is a fresh take on the “ punk rock with a classic ska guitar” song.  Although this type of song has done before by countless other bands, this has a brand spankin’ new feel to it.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Restless”-With the gritty police intro I was expecting a hard hitting punk rock number.  However, what follows is a cross between slower rock and reggae.  The raspy vocals and echo effects add to the gritty, dirty feeling to this song.  I like this song a lot!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Can’t Catch a Break”- Raspy vocals continue with this “dirty reggae” number which makes my want to take a stroll on the beach.  Sweet Lucy finishes things out with a pretty solid track with “Can’t Catch a Break.”  Grade: B+

 

When reviewing an EP, it is sometimes difficult to get an overall feel for a band over the course of only a handful of songs.  Sweet Lucy does a nice job at showcasing their style with these five songs, giving the listener a glimpse (hopefully) of what is to come in the form of another EP or full length. While I am not a super huge fan of the straight up rock and roll style found in “Bad Day,” Sweet Lucy has found their sweet spot with the remainder of the songs on this great EP.  What sets “Conscience” above many other songs in the genre are the super-smooth vocals and whistling.  It has a total relaxed feeling, taking you back to a better day.  The rest of the songs feature more powerful vocals, which can sometimes take away from a song, but not in this case.  The fun, punk-poppy nature of “Pinnochio” is contrasted with the edgier feelings of “Restless” and “Can’t Catch a Break.”  Metatonia is a must have for anyone into the reggae/rock genre.  I think this EP is pretty SWEET and so will you!  Overall Grade:B+/A-

Testing the “Limits”

The New Limits is a Boston-based band comprised of 8 members.  Starting to play in 2013, they take their love of 90’s ska and put their own spin on it.  They have just released their debut EP entitled “Pressure Up.”  Let’s try this one on for size…

 

  1.  “Pressure Up”-Steady drum beats start out this opening track, with the horn section not too far behind.  Add in some smooth vocals, and some organs, and you have yourself a good ol’ dancing ska song.  Good stuff!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Compass”- The New Limits give us another solid song with “Compass.”  Its organ-heavy sound will keep you off of your seat, especially with the guitar solo around the 2 minute mark.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Saturday Morning”- “Saturday Morning” gives us more of a big-band kind of feel.  So take off your skankin’ shoes, and lace up your wingtips, this song will have you tapping your toe for sure.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “You’re Not Ready”-With classic 90’s guitar riffs and a prominent horn section, this song is straight outta the 3rd wave.  This song is a delight for the new ska fan, but a trip down memory lane for us that are veteran listeners.  Grade: B+

 

The New Limits were certainly raised on the tunes during the heyday of American ska; however their take on the genre is no carbon copy.  While I do see some similarities to the band Skapone, The New Limits, despite being in their infancy as a band, seems more polished in vocal quality and song-writing.  I really enjoyed the combination of both organs and horn section; many bands have one or the other, not both.  The vocals are also smooth and never strained.  In an endless sea of traditional bands and ska-punk units, the New Limits play a very enjoyable, danceable breed of ska, often left-behind in the 90’s.  With only 4 songs to this disc, I beg you for more!  Grade: A-

The Most Original Name for an Album

I knew that the Taj Motel Trio has been around a few years, but I just learned that they have been entertaining fans since 1998. Their latest release, “4 Songs, 7 Inches” has been released not only on several different colors of 7” vinyl (hence the name), but digitally as well. Let’s have a listen…

1. “Burn it Down!”-TMT races out of the gate with this opening track. The horn section takes center stage amongst classic punk guitars. This is just a well-crafted song which also features a guitar solo not often seen with ska bands. Grade: A

2. “Up the Punx (in A440) – Being a ska fan since 1996, I have heard way too many songs that sound a lot like this. However, “Up the Punx (in A440)” is a fresh take on the otherwise formulaic ska-punk song. Reminiscent of old MU330, this song is a winner. Grade: A-

3. “Here We Go Again”-This light-hearted, peppy number is straight out of the 90’s third wave. It’s time to hit the skank pit! Grade: A-

4. “All Outta Angst”-Ooh a NOFx cover! While I typically enjoy originals more than covers (in any musical genre), this version is pretty comparable. The horn parts makes this a distinguishable, skanking song: Grade: A-

With only 4 tracks to this EP, Taj Motel Trio comes out swinging, laying down only their best stuff. Overall, this album sounds great, and although each song is done in the ska-punk style, there is enough variety here to keep you going from start to finish. Ben Sander’s voice has a punk edge, but still very enjoyable to listen to, unlike many in the ska-punk subset. The horn section is loud, in your face, and sets this band apart from other bands in the crowd. While “4 Songs, 7 Inches” may be a tasty morsel of musical goodness, it leaves me and other hungry fans begging for more! Grade: A

And the Survey Says!

After having several releases under their belt, Survey Says! unleashes their latest offering, “Observations of the Human Condition.” Starting in 2008, this 5-piece New Jersey combo keeps the masses skanking with their blend of pop-punk and ska. Although they have been in existence for quite some time, I must admit, they have not been on my radar…until now. Let’s rock this!

1. “Marble Tower” (intro) – While working as not only an intro to the second song, “Marble Tower works as a stand-alone instrumental as well. Starting off in typical Blink 182 fashion, Survey Says! interjects with blaring horns, letting the first time-listener know what’s in store. Grade: A-

2. “Ode to My Willpower (Or Lack Thereof)”-Starting out as a catching pop-punk tune, classic ska guitar and backup horn section come on to the scene around the half-way mark. This tune could be a radio hit. Love it! Grade: A

3. “I Aim to Misbehave”-With slightly more aggression, the vocal quality is never lost and melds well with the backup vocals. While giving the saxophonist a time to shine at the 2:40, this song packs a major punch, with a big brassy sound at the finish.

4. “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” (feat. David McWane)-As previously noted, this song features David McWane of Big D and the Kids Table fame. While I don’t have a problem with bands/artists having others sing or play on their albums, I’m not sure if it is needed here. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a great song, however, Mr. McWane’s part does more to hurt then help the cause. Grade: A-

5. “It’s a Great Day for America Everybody (Yes Indeed!)”- Survey Says! leaves their horns alone in this NOFXesque punk rock number. I really like how, like the first song, this one leads into the next. Grade: B

6. “Show Me Potato Salad!” I’m not sure what this one has to do with potato salad, but it will definitely get your feet movin’ and your fist pumpin’ Grade: A-

7. “Cake Eater” (feat. Joe Ragosta)- Besides the backing vocal harmonies, there really is nothing new or novel here. That’s a good thing when all of the previous songs have been nothing short of great! Grade: B+

8. “At Least I’m Safe Inside My Mind”-With blaring horns to start the song off, Survey Says! lets their emo side show. This song starts out probably the softest sounding on the disc and then switches to probably one of the hardest. Grade: A-
9. “Denial”- With guitars that bleed through from the previous song, this is a solid punk rock tune. The horns are in your face and pack a punch. The brass section really shines at the 2:20 mark Grade: B

10. “Anger”-Sticking only to the crunchy punky guitars vs. switching to a more ‘ska guitar’ feel, this song feels a lot like New Found Glory to me, but with horns! Grade B+

11. “Turn the Page, Wash Your Hands”- Certainly not losing any steam, “Turn the Page, Wash your Hands” is a major contender for best track on the album. The horns are showcased nicely amongst the other instruments, especially the guitar parts, which are reminiscent of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” Grade: A

My taste in ska music has definitely changed over the years. I cut my teeth on bands like Mustard Plug and Less than Jake, along with other bands in the ska-punk set. Although I still listen to these bands today, I find myself enjoying a wider variety of music in the genre, especially more of the traditional sounding bands. Why? I feel that with a lot of the more punky sounding bands, much of the musicianship is lost vs. the slower-paced rocksteady variety. This is certainly not the case with Survey Says! While they are not a band that has a lot of musical range like a Mad Caddies for Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, they stick to a formula that works and have perfected it with each and every song. As a whole, this album feels like a complete work, with excellent sound quality and having several of the songs lead into the one after. The horns are a major focus with this band; never being buried in the background. Certainly the horn section is the icing on the ska-punk cake, this band would still sound pretty great without them. What also creates likeability of this album are the guitar parts which are well-crafted, often times switching several times within each song. I also think that many bands try to sound “too punk” as they to try to avoid the “pop” label. Survey Says! seems to embrace this with the excellent vocal harmonization on every song. If you are reading this review, then you are a ska fan. You must admit however, that our favorite music genre does not have radio and TV exposure that it deserves. Maybe some ska music is too hard, too corny, to old fashion, too 80’s sounding, too whatever to really resonate with a larger niche of fans. If there is one band that can appeal to the masses and the college radio crowd, it is Survey Says! hopefully giving much needed attention to the scene. “Observations of the Human Condition” will do for the ska scene what Reel Big Fish’s “Sellout” did in the 90’s. Overall Grade: A-

So what did you think? Share it my friend!

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