Articles for the Month of April 2015

“B”eware, the Holphonics have a new album!

It is not uncommon for a ska band to wait 5+ years to release their next album (yeah I’m talking about you Deals Gone Bad, Mustard Plug and The Mad Caddies). However, The Holophonics certainly waste no time in between releases. This latest release “B Side? Is That Still A Thing?” came out a few weeks ago. They are also set to release an album of all original songs this upcoming summer. These dudes (and 1 dudette) have been hard at work. For now, let’s check out “B Side? Is That Still A Thing?”…

1. “Four Simple Words”- Caught between two worlds: poppy punk-ska and traditional ska, this opening tune, is sure to please. While I enjoy the switching off of vocalists, I prefer the smooth, less aggressive one. This song could have come off of any Reel Big Fish setlist. Grade: B

2. “Blank Space”- The Holophonics have their share of original tunes, but have really made a stamp on the ska scene with their catchy cover tunes. Their rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” is no exception. Lydia Low takes the mic on the rocksteady version of this hugely successful song. Grade: B+

3. “Girl All The Bad Guys Want”- I never was a huge fan of ‘Bowling for Soup’ but The Holophonics definitely breath new live into this song, with the use of catchy horn lines. Grade: B+

4. “Island of Shame”- The horns are on fire in this next number! There is more of an upbeat quality in this rendition of the Lagwagon original. Grade: A-

5. “California”- blazing horns and traditional ska guitar reign supreme in this ‘Phantom Planet’ cover song. I know the original got a lot of airplay, but I always thought it was rather dullsville. I dig this remake! B+

6. “Die Young”- Instrumentally this Ke$ha remake will make you, as the song states, ‘keep dancing until you die.’ Vocally, this song is not as polished as the others on the album. Grade: B+

7. “Jimbo and Bob”- Clocking in at only 30seconds, “Jimbo and Bob” is an intro for a kids show (not sure if it is a real show or not).Anyway, I like it. Grade: A-

8. “Sauerkraut”- It’s too bad there isn’t more to this song, because I really enjoy the horn section. Other than that, it reminds me of “Mashed Potatoes” by ‘Five Iron Frenzy.’ Grade: B

9. “Rockstar”- On the surface this song is pretty dumb. But how can you not love a song that combines chemistry, energy drinks and everyone’s undying passion to become a rockstar? Grade: B+

10. “Theme Song for Eating Tacos (Demo)”- Essentially this is an instrumental, with a few ‘woah,woah,woahs’ added. Do not be fooled. This is an excellent 90’s-third wave song. Awesome! Grade: A

11. “Sweater Weather (Live Rehearsal)”- I do not know who is singing on this track, but the vocals here are great, as compared to the raspier vocals on many of the other songs. The lyrics are clever and match the slower pace of this song. This is a winner all the way. Grade: A

12. “Heaven Sent and Hell Bent (Brain’s Last Rehearsal)”- Bratty punk meets third wave ska in “HSaHB.” Throw is a dash of 80’s hair band to round things out. Although this is a live recording the audio quality is actually pretty decent. Grade: B+

13. “The Government Can’t Tell Me What To Do With My Body”- Some talking done in a record studio. Sorry folks, nothing to see here. Moving right along…Grade: C

14. “Sorry For Starting A Band (Brian’s Last Rehearsal)”- With vocal quality rivaling that of ‘Sweater Weather,” this is another solid song. Overall this is a slow number, with a big brassy sound. The Holophonics must apologize after not listening to Aaron Barrett’s advice about starting a band. Grade: A-

15. “All I Wanna Do is Sell Out (Brian’s Last Rehearsal)”- Another ska-punk hit with great harmonization. With a little sense of humor you can almost forget about the struggles of the music industry. This too is a clever song, with samples from pop culture and even Fiddler on the Roof. Grade: B+

16. “All I Wanna Do is Sell Out ( A Capella)”- When you are not worrying about instruments, you can truly focus on vocal quality. The A Capella aspect adds to the overall wittiness of the song. I can’t decide which version I like more. Grade: B+

17. “BLR”- More messing around in the studio. Grade: C

Whenever I hear that a band is releasing an album of B-sides, I automatically think that it will essentially be a collection of crappy songs not good enough to make the cut for the ‘real album.’ This is not the case with “B Sides? Is That Still A Thing?.” The Holophonics bring it once again with their well-seasoned brand of ska punk. Overall, this is a lot of music with 17 songs (15 if you take out the studio banter) and the sound quality is spot on, despite there being several rehearsal tracks. There is also a nice mix of original tunes and cover songs, which will appeal to the diehard Holophonics fan as much as it will to the new listener. I really enjoy the powerfulness of the horn section, as they make their collective presence known on each and every song. The vocals were also easy on the ears, but I do wish there would have been more songs featuring Lydia. Please do not keep this talented songstress tucked away. The other strength of this album, is the overall sense of humor it possesses from the shorter songs such as “Jimbo and Bob,” “Rockstar,” and “Sauerkraut to the more elaborate “All I Wanna Do Is Sellout.” It was easy for this listener to tell how much fun the band had in making this album, as this shines through from start to finish. In closing this is just a fun, fun album where the Holophonics dish out more of the good stuff they are known for.

Overall Grade: B+

Check them out here:

Anchors Away Mateys!

If you had to guess, you would probably say that The Anchorage hails from Alaska, but in fact, they are from Salt Lake City, Utah. The Anchorage is made up of 6 members and has been playing since 2010. Their previous releases include a demo (Overkill), a 3-song EP (Speak Your Mind) and a full length album (Bridges). The latest effort by the self-proclaimed alternative rock/ska band is another LP, this time entitled Regrow. Pushing play…

1. “0.36”-The Anchorage start things off with either a very short stand-alone song or an intro to the next song. Either way, it is solid in musicianship with vocal harmonization and an overall emo type feel. Grade: A

2. “Awaken”- Thunderous drums get things going, followed by a big, brassy pop-rock feel. The horns are a definite plus to this otherwise radio-friendly number. Awesome song! Grade: A

3. “Break Free”- “Break Free” has an old-timey circus feel to it. It reminds me a lot of “Lions Roar” by The Hush sound, but with more edge. Grade: B+

4. “0.47”-Ooh, another intro song, but this time with Spanish flavor. Great stuff! Grade: A

5. “Lost in Lies”- As in other songs, the horn section is dynamic and cannot go unnoticed. The greatest part about “Lost in Lies” is the switching between not only traditional ska guitar, but several other guitar rhythms. I also appreciate the abrupt ending as well. Grade: A

6. “Say Goodbye”-The Anchorage pulls the old bait and switch by starting out as a relatively harder tune and then quickly switching to a more horn-infused alternative number. There is also a dash of ska thrown in for good measure. Musically, there is a lot going on here. Grade: B

7. “Deep Sleep”- Much like “Say Goodbye” this song switches between alt-rock and ska effortlessly throughout the song. The Anchorage keeps stackin’ up the hits! Grade: A-

8. “0.40”-A stripped down intro song with excellent harmonization! Grade: A

9. “Manipulation”- Derek Harman belts things out a little bit more on “Manipulation” then on any other song, giving it a definite rock edge. This pairs nicely with the blaring horn section. Grade: A
10. “Stereotype”- Overall, this tune is slightly slower, much in the vain of “Break Free.” I really dig the low roar of the organ and percussion towards the end. Grade: B

11. “0.41”-The last of the intro songs starts with an acoustic guitar, making it a stripped down kind of song. The horn section comes onto the scene with a slower tempo making you wonder if the next song will be more of the same, or this is “the calm before the storm.” Grade: B+

12. “Who You Are”- This next ditty brings a kind of a cool swankiness to the mix, while once again incorporating the classic ska guitar sound. What else can I say, it is a great tune! Grade: A-

13. “The Darkest Day”- “The Darkest Day” presents a nice contrast to the last song with harder guitars. In fact this is the closest thing to ska-punk this band comes to on this album. Grade: B+.

14. “Growing Apart”- Let’s slow things down again with this song. I’m not sure whether to classify this as ska or reggae rock. There is also a rare guitar solo found near the midway point. This is a solid song. Grade: A-

15. “Regrow”- The Anchorage flips things on their ear by ending with the title track instead of opening. Regrow is more of the same, a blend of alternative licks, smooth vocals and blaring horns. Grade: B+

One could spend days, if not weeks discussing the myriad of reasons why ska music has not gotten the attention or radio airplay it deserves. One reason for this is this country’s love affair with pop music. I feel that what truly separates underground artists vs. truly popular musicians is that “pop factor” of their music. This can be seen is anything from straight up rock to punk, and even hip-hop. Heck, even county music nowadays is not the country music listened to by our parents and grandparents. It is merely pop music with a twang. I do not address this as a positive or a negative point; merely just an observation. So where does ska fit in. Since most ska (I said most, not all) sounds either too much like reggae, or too punky, or too silly, it does not appeal to the masses. In turn, this leaves the ska genre in the dust. It is only when ska is blended with another form a music that have been battletested and have mass appeal will it truly make a name for itself. Enter: The Anchorage. While there certainly is punk inspiration in some of their music, I think their self-description of being an alternative rock/ska band is a spot on. Alternative rock blends elements of straight up rock with maybe a dash of punk and pop as well, giving it a radio-friendly appeal. Alternative became really big in the 90’s and is still big today with bands like Hoobastank(I know it’s been a while since they had a hit single but they are still around) and Maroon 5. Because of this merging of sounds, The Anchorage can stand toe to toe with any band out there and if anyone could put ska on the map it would be them. Regrow is a fantastic album that is unlike the majority of the stuff that is out right now. While they are labeled as being ‘alternative’ and ‘ska’ there is much more going on here to include sprinklings of punk and emo. The musicianship is excellent, from the constant switching of rhythms to the few, but always appreciated solos. The horns are a standout and present in every song. The organ is is used more subtly, but adds to the completeness of each and every song. Derek Harman’s leading vocal style is definitely easy on the ears and pure joy to listen to. The Anchorage offer the complete package with Regrow. I love this album and I am confident that you will as well.

Overall Grade: A-

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Tune Your Dial to “FM” with the Skints!

Who are the Skints you may ask? They are a 4 piece band from London, blending several musical styles including ska (of course). This latest release entitled “FM” follows an EP released last year and two full lengths. Let’s have a listen…

1. “Fm: DJ Mr. Versatile Breakfast Show”-[Alright, we are tuning are radios, now get ready for the show].

2. “This Town (feat. Tippa Irie & Horseman)”- Smooth vocals begin this mixture of reggae and hip hop, while Marcia Richardson’s voice cuts in early to rap over top. The drum machine beats and effects add to the overall feel, with some dub thrown in for good measure. To close, I enjoy the guest vocalist as he could be a dead ringer for Shaggy. Grade: B

3. “In the Night (feat. Horseman)”- More of a reggae number is found in “In the Night.” The vocals here are oozing with talent, both alone, as well as when paired with harmonization. Horseman adds that extra something near the midpoint. I love, love, love this song! Grade: A

4. “Come to You”- The organ creates a quirky traditional ska number with Marcia leading the way on the microphone. Definitely more on the soulful side; this song shines on every level. Grade: A

5. “My War”- This is your classic reggae number with smooth melodies and excellent male vocals. The organ rises to the challenge once again producing tones not found in traditional ska or reggae songs. Great stuff! Grade: A

6. “Fm: Dancehall Dilemmas with Dr. Ranking Pegasus”- [Another radio show track].

7. “Friends & Business”- The Skints rock it in this true-to- form ska song. There is no horn section, but they get the job done with the low roar of the organ and guitar solo. Also the la-la-la part is a nice homage to “Ghost Town” by the Specials. Grade: A

8. “Where Did You Go?”- Like “This Town,” there is a nice mix of reggae and hip hop, but the hip hop in this track is more subtle. This is a cool summer jam to be listened to with drink in hand. Grade: A

9. “Tazer Beam (feat. Tippa Irie)”- To open the song, the “tazer-like” organ compliments the guitar. This song works beautifully without Tippa, however he doesn’t take away from the song either. Grade: B+

10. “The Forest for the Trees”- So I am beginning to think that the flute is more commonplace than I thought. This is the third review that I’ve done that has used this underrated instrument. Marcia, Jamie Kyriakides and Josh Waters Rudge all share the singing spotlight in this slower jam. Also the dub factor is not overdone. Grade: A-

11. “Fm: Grime Hour with Rivz”-[Another radio show track].

12. “Eyes in the Back of My Head (feat. Rival)”- Smooth as silk vocals are paired with the rapping of Rival. Overall, it is a pretty solid number, but not my favorite because it leans more towards hip-hop then to ska or reggae. Grade: B

13. “Got No Say”- This is another great example of great harmonization as well as switching between male and female vocalist. “Got No Say” has kind of an island vibe to it. I dig it! Grade : B

14. “Fm: DJ Mr. Versatile Evening Session”- [The last of the radio show tracks]

15. “Tomorrow”- Soul mixed with just the right amount of hip-hop. The Skints finish with a bang! Grade: A-

I must admit, I had not heard of the Skints until a couple of months ago. My first exposure was the single “This Town,” and I thought, “Okay, this is a rap group with a reggae beat. Not really my thing.” I could have just ignored this album altogether, but I decided to review it anyway. I am so glad I did. First of all I love albums that try to create an experience rather than being just a collection of songs. The Skints do just that. From the artwork to the several radio show tracks throughout, you feel as if you are part of a live broadcast. This band also blends several musical styles from rock, reggae, ska and hip hop/rap to create a truly unique sound. It is true that I am no fan of rap or hip hop, but the Skints are not downgraded for this, as this is personal preference. In addition, even the rap elements (in my opinion) are never overbearing, as they complement the rest of the song perfectly. There is also a certain smooth quality to the straight up reggae and ska tunes. Instrumentally, this is a joy to listen to but the Skints greatest strength lies in the vocal trifecta of Marcia Richardson, Jamie Kyriakides and Josh Waters Rudge. A vocalist can be the deciding factor whether I enjoy a band or not, so to find a band with three talented voices is almost unheard of. The Skints have found a new fan in me. “FM” may not be for the ska purest, but I urge everyone to open their minds (and their wallets) to pick up this latest effort by the Skints.

Overall Grade: A-

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Is There Life After Death?

Formed in 2002, New Jersey’s ‘Hub City Stompers’ are no strangers to the party. With 3 full lengths and one EP under their collective belts, they are true ska veterans. This latest release, “Life After Death,” was released on Stubborn records at the end of last year. Let’s check it out…
1. “Emeute Des Fideles”-What starts out as a rather hardcore punk number quickly switches to ska familiarity. The saxophone steals the show towards the end of the song, with more, kick-to-the-teeth aggressiveness to finish things off. Grade: B

2. “Dirty Dozen”-Not as hard-hitting as the previous song, more of a dancing tune is found in “Dirty Dozen.” A true ska feel! Grade: B+

3. “Lil’ Miss Nuthin’”- The Hub City Stompers slow things down once again, with the smooth tone of the saxophone throughout. I really enjoy the solo at the midpoint as well as the use of vocal harmonies toward the end. Grade: A-

4. “Untouchable”- Did you think you were done skankin’? Stay on the dance floor while you enjoy this catchy tune. Grade: A-

5. “The Takeback”-The sax in this song creates a smooth, laid back feel. It feels as if I’m listening to this in a small club with maybe only 10 other people. Oh wait, the band takes a dramatic turn near the hallway point and takes no prisoners in this punk brawl. Grade: B+

6. “Lifeline”- After getting whipped in the mosh pit during the last song, “Lifeline” brings more of a traditional ska feel. Great stuff! Grade: A-

7. “Pants Music”- What else would you expect from a song called “Pants Music” but a quirky, fun laded song. Grade: B

8. “Blood Orgy”- In true rocksteady fashion, this song also has a swanky quality created again by the excellent use of the saxophone. Also the female vocalist is a very pleasant surprise. Grade: B+

9. “Shallowed Be”- Although I appreciate the switching between classic ska guitar and surf rock guitar, this song just didn’t resonate with me. Grade: C

10. “Black Claddagh”- “Black Claddagh” has that “closing time at the bar” feel. All the patrons are leaving but the band plays on. Bonus points given for the use of a violin! Grade: B

11. “Imperial”- I always cringe a little when I give a higher score to an instrumental then to songs with vocals. What else can I say, this song is a winner! Grade: A

12. “Hey Ed”- Besides the ska guitar rhythm, this is a straight up punk rock number. Vocal harmonization is used in this song, which makes up for the lack of a horn section. While the horns have been pretty solid throughout this album, this song works fine without them. Grade: B+

13. “Benny Bash”- If the last song was done in a punk style, this is more in the lines of hardcore. Sorry guys, not digging this one. Grade: D

With only a few bumps in the road found in “Benny Bash” and “Shallowed Be,” the Hub City Stompers have managed to put out a pretty solid record. While they stick to their skacore roots, there is certainly enough variety in here to keep even the new listener entertained. “Life After Death” features a great mixture of both hard/breakneck songs, and some slower grooves as well. The lead vocals pair nicely with the more mellow tones of the saxophone, which is a standout on almost every song. As mentioned above, allowing Jenny Whiskey to take the reins on vocals is refreshing and I wish she were featured on more songs. While there is much variety in the genre of ska, most bands seem to fit into two camps, either the traditional ska crowd or the ska-pop-punk group. Are there any hardcore ska groups left? Sure, there a few, but the Hub City Stompers are certainly one of the bands that have paved the way. If you like your ska loud and gruff , then this is the album you. Stomp on down to your local music store and pick this one up!

Overall Grade: B


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In 1592 Columbus sailed…wait no!

The new video for “Think” by 1592 is a simple concept; just a band playing in a bar.  This being said, this video is more than that, with its black and white footage, jump cuts and change of focus throughout.  The video fits well with the already laid back tune which is created by the traditional rocksteady beat.  1592 does more in this song with just the saxophone than some bands can do with an entire horn section.  The added female backing vocals are also a nice contrast to the edgier lead vocals of Eric Abbey.  Overall this was an enjoyable song and I can’t wait to hear more from this Detroit band.

Overall Grade: B+

So what did you think? Share it my friend!

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