Articles for the Month of July 2015

Where Has the Music Gone?

Enduring several lineup changes since their 2006 inception, General Tso’s Fury is set to release a new LP entitled ‘Where Has the Music Gone?’ This new set of material is the first since 2012 for this Florida based septet. Without further ado…
1. “Hypertension”- After being “introduced as the next biggest thing” at a night club or concert venue, General Tso’s Fury (GTF) lays down a face-melting, metal with horns instrumental. Great stuff. Grade: A

2. “I Look Better When I’m Naked”- Picking up where the last track left off, comes a true pop punk number that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is obvious from the subject matter. While I will politely decline lead vocalist Jordan Freeburn’s offer to “… find out for yourself,” I will however, give mad props to this tune. Grade: B+

3. “Home Appliances”- Speeding things up a bit, Mr. Freeburn and Co. play a straight up punk number. The lyrics seem to be drowned out by the guitar at times and seem a little disjointed. The horns are also lacking for most of the song, up until the end where they really rip! Grade: B

4. “Fist Bump”- As opposed to “Home Appliance,” the horn section plays more of pivotal role in this upbeat danceable number. Great solos are found in “Fist Bump” along with great use of vocal harmonization. This one kind of reminds me of a Suburban Legends tune. Grade: B+

5. “Cereal Time”- “Cereal Time” is the kind of song that definitely gets better on repeat listens. Sure the song is not tackling foreign policy or any other heavy subject matter, but hey, it’s a great song about cereal! This is a fun little tune done in the traditional 3rd wave style. Grade: A-

6. “Spoiler Alert”-Crazy fast horns and guitar make this an instant ska/punk classic. Around the halfway point, GTF takes a slight detour, busting out more of a swanky rock number, complete with muted trumpet. Wow! Grade: A-

7. “Q & A”- Its reggae rock time in “Q & A.” More attention is paid to the vocals on this tune, giving the whole song more of a smoother vibe. While Jordan’s voice is not unpleasant during the other tunes, I really resonate more with him on this one. His attempt at singing shines through vs. the more aggressive punk style vocals found on many of the other songs. Best song so far! Grade: A

8. “Joel Sux”- At first I thought I was in store for a song that was a clone of the 1000s of other punk songs out there. Once warmed up, melodic rock shines through. Although the horns are few and far between, they accent the song nicely. A solid tune. Grade: B+

9. “Rock, Paper, Scissors”- I believe the A-oks coined the phrase “partycore.” If ever there was a song by a different band that fit into this category, this would be the one. At its core, it is a horn-driven punk number with a lot of changing melodies and a killer guitar solo. Pull out your rock fist for this one! Grade: A-

10. “Suck It Up”-I’m not really sure what to say about this song other than it is rock with an old-timey feel to it. I like the addition of piano in this one; however this is not my favorite tune by any stretch. Grade: B-

11. “Cougars”-Ooh, tension is building. What am I in store for? Talking vocals cut in with singing. There is a lot going on here. GTF tries to meld together 4 song styles into a “Frankensong” of sorts. I do appreciate the wittiness; however, I’m not digging this one. Grade: C-

12. “U-Turn”- According to the lyrics, this song “may sound like all the rest,” but I still dig it. It is a straight up punk number void of any horns, but a ride you will surely want to take. Grade: B+

13. “Where Has the Music Gone?”- This wouldn’t be a proper album unless there was some acoustic guitar in the final song right? Some vocal quality is lost due to Jordan really trying to belt it out on this one, but this is still one helluva tune. Grade: B+

Are you ready to rock your socks off? Then I highly suggest giving General Tso’s Fury’s ‘Where Has the Music Gone’ a listen. Looking at the album as a whole, there is a generous helping of tunes with 13 tracks to its name. While there are slight variations in style, as well as some musical experimentation, GTF sticks mainly to their ska/punk roots. Following the lead of Reel Big Fish, GTF injects a sense of humor into the mix, especially in “Cereal Time”, “Cougars” and “I Look Better When I’m Naked.” With only a couple of snags along the way (“Suck it Up” and “Cougars”), I look forward to listening to this again and again. Musically speaking the horns are punchy and a key element to the sound, whether they are the driving force behind a song, or more of just an accent. Vocally, most songs are done in the classic punk style (ie “Home Appliances”, “U-turn” etc.). While fine by itself, a new depth is added when these vocals are harmonized with another band member. Even better still, is when lead singer Jordan softens things a bit (such as in “Q &A” and “Rock, Paper Scissors”) to create pure audio candy. This in my opinion is the different between a good song and a great one. At the risk of sounding like every other ska/punk outfit on the block, GTF steps away from the pack with witty lyrics, and the ability to create a fun, fun time with their music. So, ‘Where Has the Music Gone’ anyway? Well, it’s right here my friends! Check it out!

Overall Grade: B

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A Warm Welcome to Crabhammer!

Georgia natives Crabhammer are set to release their debut album entitled ‘Peer Pressure at a High school Party.” This 7-piece ska-core outfit is in their infancy as a band, as they formed earlier this year. Let’s dive into this album…

1.“I Know a Drummer Who Can’t Play This Song”- For death metal or hardcore or whatever you want to call it, it’s a good song, I guess. I have never been fan of this kind of music with deep growling vocals. I didn’t really resonate with this song, but I do like the blaring horns found here. Grade: D

2. “Offend Pop Punk”- Crabhammer switches t from hard metal to punk, interjected with classic ska guitar riffs. The less-gruff vocals and excellent use of saxophone make this a solid tune. Grade: B

3. “The Future is NOW!!!”- “The Future is NOW!!” is an eclectic mix of synthesizer, horns and screaming vocals. I really enjoy the fast-paced horns and overall “spacey” feel created by the synthesizer, but once again, I am not totally on board with the vocals: Grade: C-

4. “Everlong”- This is Crabhammer’s first attempt at more of a melodic punk style, in which they hit a home run. Everything about this is song is greats, from the vocals, to the horn section, to the overall catchiness of the tune. Dig it! Grade: A-

5. “You Can’t Spell Apathetic without Pathetic”- Throw some metal, punk, old school NES, and pirate-core in the blender and out comes this next tune. This is successful attempt at blending several musical styles, which sticking to the overall hardcore ska theme of the band. Grade: B

6. “Invictus”- A dark tune, with mostly talking for vocals and a lone saxophone—up until the end when the entire band breaks onto the scene. Grade: B-

7. “If You Wanna Get Hurt, Skateboard”- Crabhammer finishes in true ska punk fashion, complete with a rockin’ guitar solo and catchy melodies. Nice job. Grade: B

First I would like to welcome Crabhammer to the ska scene. It is quite impressive to release an album just months after inception of a band. It takes most bands years to achieve this, so kudos to them. Musically speaking, there is a lot going on in this album, showing that the band is still experimenting with their sound. This being said, Crabhammer seems to be pulled into two main directions, giving equal time to both ska/punk and death metal with horns. I can give a more unbiased opinion on the former vs. the latter. I do enjoy punk ska of all flavors, and on this album Crabhammer pulls this off very well. Songs such as “Everlong” and “If You Wanna Get Hurt, Skateboard” highlight not only the excellent horn section and a more focused attempt at actual singing. On the other hand I have never really enjoyed straight up hardcore or screaming/growling death metal, so it is difficult for me to judge the extent on how this is executed on this album. So the songs done in this style are downgraded based on personal preference and not necessarily on talent. Overall I think that Crabhammer has a lot going for them and show much promise in the future, especially if they continue their already hard work ethic. ‘Peer Pressure at a High school Party” is recommended to the ska fan that also has a diverse musical palette. If this is the demographic that Crabhammer is going for, then “great,” keep doing your thing. Otherwise, they might be better off picking one style and running with it. I can’t wait to see what is in store for this young band. The ska in the limit!

Overall Grade: B-

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A (Sailor) Kick to the face!

You mean to tell me that there are other bands from Grand Rapids Michigan besides Mustard Plug? You bet your sweet bippy there are. The one we are highlighting today is The Sailor Kicks. They are set to drop their third release entitled ‘High Tide.’ Let’s get our listen on…

1. “End of the World”- With its banging percussion and lone trumpet, I initially thought “End of the World” was a song stripped from the likes of Cake. Alas, where Cake’s vocal style is more on the monotone side, The Sailor Kicks pair melodic rock with horns. Grade: B

2. “Everything I Do”- Blaring horns rule in this gritty rock tune. I’m not sure if this is a ska song per se, but it’s a solid number none the less. Grade: B

3. “American Spirit”- Oh wait, I spoke too soon. “American Spirit” rocks a familiar ska guitar riff with kind of a bluesy feel to it. I dig it! Grade: B+

4. “Holy Roman”- Put on your white T-shirt, slick back your hair and hold onto your seat! You are on an early rock n’ roll meets rockabilly thrill-ride. Grade: A-

5. “Rumble”- the Sailor Kicks bring out a little neo swing in this next song, but with a fun, more lighthearted feel compared to the other tracks on this album. I love this song! Grade: A

6. “Hot Mess”- Another great tune is found in “Hot Mess.” The ukulele is really noticeable here and I especially love the muted trumpet. Grade: A-

7. “Low Profile”- What starts out as a “pretty song” created again by the ukulele, slowly builds into a bar-time drinking song. Excellent use organ in this one. Grade: A-

8. “Beggin”- This song made me feel like I was driving in my hotrod to the set of a 1960’s beach movie. To be honest there are too many musical influences in this song to count. Thumbs up! Grade: A-

9. “Cold Shoulder”- What can I say, more of the elements that I really enjoy from the last few songs. This could have almost been an Elvis Presley tune, sans trumpet of course. Grade: B+

10. “Bruised Ego Baby”- I can’t place the time-period from when this song is from, but it definitely has an old-timey feel to it. A lot of bands will try to pull off a song like this as sort of a novelty, but there are no novelties or gimmicks here. This song is the real deal and fits in nicely with The Sailor Kick’s overall style. Grade: A-

11. “Mercy”- While the vocals so far have been easy on the ears for the entire album, they really shine here. The other strength in this song is the switching between 50’s rock love song and more aggressive rock. Great tune! Grade: A

12. “That Dress”- The Sailor Kicks finish strong with this final track that showcases more ukulele and vocal harmonization. Grade: B+

Well, I must say that of all of the reviews I have done, this is certainly the most unique. While the trumpet is a mainstay across all of the songs, the only true ska-sounding song is “American Spirit.” Despite this review being on a ska website, does it really matter? No—good music is good music; PERIOD. To be honest, I had my reservations after the first few songs, but then after continued listening, I really began to appreciate the genius of The Sailor Kicks. To start, a lot of bands that I review have 5-8 band members on average. There are just 4 dudes in this band, leading to a rather stripped-down sound. I really enjoy the use of ukulele and stand-up bass, a combination that has never fallen upon these ears. Every song is distinct from the next, keeping the listener guessing which musical style will shine through. Overall, ‘High Tide’ has a 50’s/60’s rock feel with splashes of rockabilly, swing, surf, blues, jazz and a touch of ska. Truly unique in my opinion, making this particular band a joy to listed to. The final strength of the High Tide LP is the matter in which it was recorded. Overproduction is common in pop music and I see it slowly creeping its way into the ska scene as well. I feel that there was very little tweaking done in the studio on this album. This is nice because how many times have you heard a band’s cd and then they totally fall flat live? I have a hunch that what you hear on this album is pretty close to what a live performance would be like. As mentioned before, this is not your run of the mill band. Are bored with your current music collection? Are you sick of listening to Reel Big Fish wannabes all day long? Well, then, ‘High Tide’ might just be the (Sailor) kick that your stereo needs. Check it out!

Overall Grade: A-

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Let’s help the Pandemics go viral!

Who’s ready for some New York ska? The Big Apple natives, The Pandemics have just released a 5-song EP entitled ‘Hard-Headed.’  According to their bio, the goal of this 8-piece band is” …to spread their infectious brand of NY Ska Punk to the masses until skanking in the streets causes a mass hysteria.”  Let’s give ‘Hard-Headed’ a try, shall we?

  1. “Hard Headed”- The Pandemics get things rollin’ with this ska/big band hybrid.  While this is a horn-driven song, there are also a few well appreciated solos as well.  Get up off your seat, grab your gal and hit the dance floor.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Change Your Mind”- Pick it up, yo!  I really resonate with the chorus this song, as the goal of my website is to prove that ska is not dead.  There is a strong horn presence is this tune as well, but it is the organ that creates the traditional ska beat.  A fun, danceable song is found in “Change Your Mind.”  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Chains”- The Pandemics change things up by injecting a little punk into the mix.  Lead vocalist Chris Malone really belts thing out here, creating a song which reminds me a lot of the Insyderz.  Good stuff!  A-

 

  1. “Stop & Get Frisky”- “Stop & Get Frisky” kicks things up once more, and is the hardest song on the album so far.  I really love the blaring brass section with the more subtle saxophone and organ in the back ground.  This song has a kind of gritty feel to it, and I love it!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Timmy’s Song”- It’s time to slow things down once again for another brassy song that mixes traditional ska with big band. This is not my favorite track, but still enjoyable none the less.  Grade: B

 

I have a love/hate relationship with EPs.  I love them because bands usually put their best stuff on them, as there is simply no room for “filler” songs.  I hate them because after listening to them in their entirely, I am left begging for more.  This is exactly the case with the ‘Hard-Headed’ EP by the Pandemics.  In this relatively compact album, the Pandemics have laid down 5 songs of pure ska goodness.  The overall sound has a definite east coast swagger as compared to the stereotypical pop/punk style of west coast bands.  The horn section is strong in each and every song, This paired with the vocal style of Chris Malone give the band some range, letting them avoid the cookie-cutter approach when crafting sounds.  This fact has not gone unnoticed; every song on this album sounds distinctly different.  The Pandemics can pull off the brassy style of big-band to edgier punk to even danceable ska.  This is a solid bunch of tunes that will be a new favorite of any ska fan.  Check out ‘Hard-headed’ and spread the word like a pandemic!

 

Overall Grade: B+

 

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It’s a bird, it’s a plane, its the….Backyard Superheroes

‘Let’s Get Dangerous’ with the Backyard Superheroes shall we?  The 7-piece ska combo out of New Jersey are set to release a new EP entitled (you guessed it) ‘Let’s Get Dangerous.’  This latest release follows last year’s self-titled full length and an EP.  Let’s have a listen…

 

  1. “Let’s Get Dangerous”-An opening concert track (not really a song per se) that leads right into the next song.

 

  1. “Face It”- “Face It” starts things off with a horn-heavy, bratty punk sound.  There was a time in the 90’s when every ska/punk band sounded like this, but in 2015 this sounds new and fresh again.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “My Fault”- Once again, the horns rule the day in this next song.  This an excellent mix of  punk sound with precise and well-polished horn solos.  Rock on!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “What Could Go Wrong?”-  The Backyard Superheroes kick it up a notch in this fast-paced, blazing song.  The horn section is quick and punchy which contrasts nicely with the sax solo near the end.  Awesome!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Average Guy”- The album takes a bit of light-hearted, dance-worthy turn.  I really dig the organ solo as well as the ode to “A Message to You Rudy.”  Way to respect your roots.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Running in Place”- The Backyard Superheroes march back into familiar territory with fiery punk ska.  A big thumbs up goes to the female vocalist featured in this tune.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Arcade Girl”- I may be dating myself, but arcades were actually still a thing when I grew up, so this song brings me back.  Musically, the ‘Let’s Get Dangerous’ EP ends on a high note with this fun upbeat tune.  What’s better than ska and video games?  Grade: A-

 

It seems as if the Backyard Superheroes were raised on the same 1990’s pop punk that I was.  There are obvious elements in their music that remind me of early Green Day, MXPX, New Found Glory,  Bowling for Soup, Good Charlotte… and the list goes on.  But notice I say that they use elements and that they are not exact clones.  The Backyard Superheroes breathe new life into the ska-punk scene with this short collection of tunes.  While still in infancy as a band, they have managed to grind out an album so polished it could stand atop the heap with seasoned veterans in the field.  Oftentimes the horn section seems to be an afterthought or add-on with some bands, but not here.  The horn section is front and center and is pivotal to the overall catchy sound of the album.  The vocals are what you’d expect from a punk/ska band, on the raspier side, but never grating or a strain to listen too.  Lyrically, there is nothing heavy here, in terms of politics or world events, but rather just fun, fun music. This is a must for the long time ska fan or the fan who hung up their Buck-o-Nine and Reel Big Fish albums with their beer bongs and college textbooks.   Thank you Backyard Superheroes,  for making me fall in love with ska punk all over again!

 

Overall Grade: A-

 

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