Representing Dallas, TX is the one and only Monkeysphere. Since their inception in 2013, they have been hard at work, releasing an LP last year, and an EP earlier this month. This 5-song collection of new tunes, entitled ‘Music For Awkward People to Dance To” deserves a listen. Shall we?
- “Dance Into the Void”- Appropriately named, the opening track starts with a spacey, psychedelic feel which is created by eerie horns, echo vocals and buzzing synthesizer. The song quickly turns into your typical upbeat ska tune. Way to step outside of the box! Grade: B
- “Taken Away”-Musically, this song is all over the map, but I dig it! Borrowing a little style from the B-52’s, with a touch of 70’s easy listening, some Frank Black of The Pixies fame, and some white-boy rap, and you have one of the most unique sounds I have reviewed. Grade: A-
- “Black Hole Dream”- After a brassy intro, “Black Hole Dream” follows the same interstellar motif as the first track. Overall this is a slower, grittier tune. Good stuff. Grade: A-
- “Come Back to the Show”- This is a straight up ska track with the standout being the powerful pipes of Zooki, the lead songstress. Grade: A-
- “Rude Boy Requiem”- With the horns a blazing, I really wanted to like this song. No matter how good a sound is musically, the vocals can totally ruin it for me. I’m sorry to say that this song did just that. Grade: C-
I must say that I have a bias towards female-fronted ska bands. I find that most of them have better singing chops than their male counterparts. This being said, it can be difficult to stand out in the crowd of so many great voices as well as being compared to the Gwens and the Moniques of ska’s 15 minutes of fame in the 1990’s. Not to take away from the auditory talent of Zooki (she has a great voice), Monkeysphere as a whole shines due to the unique nature of their sound. While “Rude Boy Requiem” fell flat with me personally, the rest the EP is pleasure on the ears. Using ska as the framework, the band does an excellent job at stirring imagery of grittiness, outer space and psychedelia. Is this an experimental album? Is this the album’s new direction? Only Monkeysphere knows, but I invite you, my fellow listeners, along for the ride!
Overall Grade: B+
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Alright vinyl fans, time to scrape some cash together for the new 7” from The Bishops. The Bishops have been doing their thing since 1995, and I am sad to say that I had not heard of them until about a year or two ago. Both their sets (alone and backing Monty Neysmith) at last year’s Fistful of Ska were some of the best of the night. Let’s check out their new tunes, shall we?
- “Black and Tan”- Why is it that ska songs about drinking never get old? The Bishops bring their horn-heavy sound to this traditional number. Each horn gets a chance to shine with their own solo and the organ adds that something extra to the mix. Grade: B+
- “The Ol’ 49r”-This is a fantastic groovy little instrumental. The horns don’t come until the halfway mark, letting the organ be the star of the show. Don’t miss the killer guitar solo. Great track! Grade: A
While overdone studio manipulation has crept its way into the ska genre, The Bishops new single is the antithesis of this. This album is a great example of a talented band playing their collective hearts out. Because I had the privilege of catching them at a live show, I can vouch for the musicianship that they bring. Avoiding the trap at trying to sound inventive or original, The Bishops have perfected the basic elements of traditional ska. From the often peppy organ to the bombastic horn section to the ska guitar, this band has honed their craft. Overall this is a great record that will tease fans until they release their next full length. Check it out!
Overall Grade: A-
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Jump Up! Records
Dope Soda began playing their blend of infectious ska-infused tunes in 2011 and hail from British Columbia, Canada. Although this is their third release, this is my first exposure to this band. I can’t wait to push play on their newest EP, entitled ‘Bring Five Friends.’ Let’s have a listen…
- “Tailspin”- “Tailspin” will put some much needed pep in your step. You will skank the night away in this highly danceable party tune. A horn-driven ska number to say the least, there is excellent use of the keys as well. Grade: A-
- “Simon the Cat”- What can I say, it’s a song about a cat. While the subject matter is light and silly at times, there is no shortage of musical chops. With ska at its core, there is some swankiness going on here as well. Grade: B
- “Chirpa the Cat”- What’s better than an album with a song about a cat? Two songs about cats! Musically there is a smorgasbord of sound, meeting at the intersection of rock and blues. Throw in a little Sammy Haggar-esque vocals and you have yourself a turbo-charged horn rocker. Grade: A-
- “An Open Letter to the Judge”- This next track has more of a reggae and dixieland feeling, cut in with more upbeat parts. I really dig the gospel-inspired backing vocals. Big thumbs up! Grade: A
- “Open Doors (feat. Kytami)”- While I prefer the vocal stylings of Matt Carter (songs 1,3 and 4) , this song is epic. The horns will blow the doors off of any concert venue and the violin work by Kytami is an exciting addition to the genre. Awesome! Grade: A
It is a shame that I had not heard of Dope Soda any sooner. ‘Bring Five Friends’ packs a wallop over the course of only 5 songs. Many bands in the genre can be pigeon-holed to either the traditional variety or the ska-punk subset. Dope Soda fills the much needed void and cranks out music that you can dance to. While I certainly enjoy ska of all flavors, it is this type of music that gets my spirit (and feet) moving. Technically speaking, this is an excellent recording with more subtle parts, such as the piano, being heard loud and clear. The horns need no help in this area, as their collective presence is heard on every song. In addition, each tune sounds distinctively different from the one before, incorporating several musical styles. Finally, I feel that the guest work by Kytami is pure genius. Using guest artists is becoming more common within ska, however, picking a master of their craft, with an instrument not typically associated with the genre, is brilliant. If you could not tell already, I highly recommend this album. Go check it out.
Overall Grade: A-
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Certainly wasting no time, the 2014 born Shark Punch have released their debut full-length. The Hayward California septet unleashes 10 songs of ska punk flavor entitled ‘Hope This Works.’ Let’s check it out…
- “Shut Up Dustin”-Grab your boards and get ready to shoot the curl in this ska-laced surf instrumental. With fantastic solos from the saxophone and the trumpet, Shark Punch starts out on the right fin. Grade: A-
- “Day of the Dead”- The first song warms you up for the absolute musical beat-down your will experience during “Day of the Dead.” This is your basic hard-hitting punk number (with horns!). Grade: B
- “Same Old Things”- I love when bands re-create the third wave sound that I grew up with. Look no further than this for a perfect example of the when ska had its 15 minutes of fame. Great song! Grade: A-
- “Fall in Line”- This next track is more of the 90’s sound with signature ska-guitar and a killer solo near the end. Grade: A-
- “Mr. Drift On”-Slow and methodical from the start, I really dig the craftsmanship of this song as a whole. It is the slowest song thus far, but it is also my favorite. Grade: A
- “Insane”-Shark Punch cranks things up once again is this horn-heavy number. Maybe it is the stark contrast between the lead vocals and the backing gang vocals, but this song did not strike a chord with me. Grade: C
- “Stuck on the Same Page”- Returning to form in this next track the boys crank out another solid number. A little clunky at the transitions, this is still a pretty decent ska ditty reminding me a little of the Rayguns. Grade: B
- “Shit Fucker”- Normally I don’t like swearing for the sake of swearing, but this SO over the top it is laughable and will get stuck into the inner grooves of your brain. A foot-tapper for sure. Grade: A-
- “Boom Boom Boom”- If you took the fun upbeat tunes of the Aquabats and crossed them with the sex-soaked “Caress Me Down” from Sublime, you would get “Boom Boom Boom.” The real question is why boom, when you can double boom? Awesome! Grade: A
- “Don’t Fuck With Me”-The classic ‘love gone bad’ formula wrapped in the ska punk garnishes works for me every time. Excellent work by the songsmith in the danceable closing track. Grade: A-
Sharing the same love of the ‘F word’ as Reel Big Fish’s Aaron Barrett, Shark Punch brings it hard in their latest release. Rocking the ska-punk subset, they share the same overall sound as Buck-O-Nine, The AoKs and Backyard Superheroes. Maybe not as polished at the third wave bands that inspired their sound, this is a great first album to say the least. With little variation in genre (which is wise for a first album), there is still enough variety here to make every song sound unique and enjoyable. The horns are heard loud and clear, fitting nicely with punked up guitar. I personally think that Shark Punch shines the brightest when they stick to the 90’s ska formula or when they slow things down a bit as in “Mr. Drift On”. Things get a little unhinged in the harder, more aggressive numbers such as “Day of the Dead” and “Insane.” I say this not to criticize, but merely to state my musical taste. Overall this is a great recording that anyone into ska punk will love to sink their teeth into. I see much promise for these gents, and I look forward to what the future holds for them. Surf on over to their site and check out these sweet tunes!
Overall Grade: B+
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