Articles for the Month of February 2017

‘The Coast Is Clear’ Courtesy of Madaline

After taking a hiatus in the mid-2000s, Madaline from Denton, TX has been hard at work the past few years.  Following a release last year, these dudes (and 1 dudette) have released ‘The Coast Is Clear,’ a 6-song EP.  Let’s check it out…

 

  1. “The Coast is Clear”- Starting things off, is this lightning-paced punk number accompanied by an arsenal of horns. Armed with dual vocalists found in Mark O’Neal Kimberlin and Adaline Cherry, this tune is a rip, roarin’ good time!  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Vernal Concession”- Aside from the backing vocals, Ms. Cherry gets a chance to rock the mic in this next ditty. Classic third wave guitar with a horn line that you can’t get out of your head.  What’s not to love?  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Failing Me”- I enjoy ska of all sorts, but the danceable variety is what got me hooked in the first place. “Failing Me” is less on the punky side and features, not only smooth vocals, but a sweet trumpet solo as well.  You better do some stretches, because it’s skankin’ time.   Grade: A-

 

  1. “Where Do We Go Now?”- For some reason the vocals in this one seem a little more polished.  Mark sounds great here both alone and when harmonizing with Adaline.    Awesome song!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Fever”- Letting the horn section rest a bit, “Fever” is a sensitive punk number (okay, I’ll say it-“emo”). Despite not really being a ska song, this is a solid number.  I dig it!  Grade: B+

 

  1. In the Ether (Acoustic)”- Your standard striped-down end-of-the- album acoustic song. It’s okay.  Grade: C

 

I have a love/hate relationship with EPs.  On one hand, a band includes their best stuff with no “filler tracks” you sometimes find on a full length.  On the other hand, I feel a little let down, only because I want to hear more.  Both are the case for Madaline’s ‘The Coast is Clear’ EP.  For those of you that are regular readers, you know that I have a soft spot for bands with dual vocalist, especially when one is a guy and one is a lady.  This dimension, which Madaline takes full advantage of, leads to great variety in the vocal department.  Mark and Adaline can shine in their own rights, as well as when they share the microphone.  I enjoyed Mark’s vocals on the later tracks; he sounds better when he sings in a slightly higher pitch.  As far as the rest of the band, they do an excellent job at crafting songs which are not only enjoyable, but sound completely different from the one before it.  There are no two songs here that sound alike, from the heavier feel of “The Coast is Clear’ to the skank-worthiness of “Failing Me.” Other than the lackluster acoustic number at the end, my only beef with this album is that the horn section is muddled amongst the guitar parts in “Where Do We Go Now?” Otherwise they are on point for the rest of the album.  Not your usual ska-punk fair, Madaline does a great job and keeping things entertaining over the course of only 6 tracks.  Now if they would only release another LP…

 

Overall Grade: B+

 

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Check out ‘The Phonosonics’

Hey everyone, The Phonosonics have just released a new single, in which they have pressed onto green vinyl.  Let’s drop the needle on this one…

 

  1. “Between Two Headphone”- Smudging the line between traditional ska and reggae, this first track is a laid-back “stay in bed” kind of tune. Super soulful vocals with awesome range with the backdrop of a “tinny” guitar (or ukulele, I’m not sure).  Not overlooking any subtleties, The Phonosonics include a pinch of saxophone and just a tad of dub.  Great song!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Dark-Haired Lady”- The B side uses the same elements as mentioned on the first track(mellow saxophone and dub) this song is just as enjoyable as the first.  Another slower tune; this will not make you bang your head or skank in the pit, but rather soak up the methodical rocksteady beat and sweet vocals.  Grade: A

 

With a touch of old fashioned sound, The Phonosonics have released an extremely enjoyable single.  When I say The Phonosonics, I really mean Spencer Cleave, the mastermind behind this entire project.   Spencer recorded this single (the vocals and all of the instrumentation) in his basement.  Listening to the sound quality here, the aforementioned is truly an impressive feat.  Musically, each song was written with the basic ska/rocksteady framework, with much attention paid to detail.  The vocals are refreshing, taking me back to old soul or Motown.  This will be a definite no-go for the ska punk purists but those that dig older or traditional sounds, Spencer is your man.  I thoroughly enjoyed this release; it has wet my appetite for more.  A full length cannot come soon enough!

 

Overall Grade: A

 

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Part II-‘What Do You Know About Ska Punk?-Vol. 1’

11. The Main Street Sweep-“Dear Karen”- The Main Street Sweep is a rock band with some ska elements, as highlighted by this fun little ditty. The saxophone really wails, in this ode to 50’s style.  Good times.  Grade: B

12. Malarky-“Rizla”- The lone saxophone is a standout, but in general, this song is redundant and just plain wacky. There are at least three vocals going on at one point, none of which I enjoyed.  There is also a weird transition point at the 2:00 minute mark.  Grade: D

13.  Stacked Like Pancakes-“Renegade”- Stacked Like Pancakes is one the hottest bands on the scene today and have been touring with Reel Big Fish. With their soft-spoken vocals and catchy song-writing, I really enjoy this band.  Although “Renegade” is one of the best songs on their latest album, the entire album is great.  Go check it out…now!  Grade: A

14.  Bone Daddies-“Sinister City”-What do the Bone Daddies sound like? Well they sound like one part The Insyderz and one part 80’s hair-metal.  These guys rock hard, but I think their overall sound could be polished just a tad.  Grade: C

15.  Goldstein-“Stealing Glances”- British-boy rap meets ska in “Stealing Glances.” Vocally, the singer is rather monotone in this mostly, stripped-down song. This “just okay” number grows tiresome and almost a chore to make it through towards the end.   B-

16.  Beat the Smart Kids-“Brain Pollution”- I really enjoy the lone saxophone and the low roar of the organ of this typical ska punk number and the use of “pick it up” took me back to the late 90’s. Although the gruffer style lyrics are what you’d expect in this genre, they are not my favorite here.  All in all a pretty solid tune.  If you dig these guys, check out the similar sounding ‘4 Aspirin Morning’ from Wisconsin.  Grade: B

17. Jake and The Jellyfish-“Coffee Tally”- Not to sound like a broken record, but a lot of why I like a band hinges on whether I enjoy the lead vocalist’s voice. While I’m certainly not in love with the vocals, there is something unique here that makes this song oddly intoxicating.  The horn section really let it rip in this garage rock/ska mashup.  Grade: B

18.  Lucky Luxury-“Camp For the Night”-I wish I would have heard of this band sooner. So far this is one of my favorite tracks on this album (I know I have a long way to go).  Some of the smoothest traditional ska I’ve heard with great backing vocals and organ.  Boo-yah!  (If you like this band , check out The Duppies).   Grade A

19.  The Dirty Notion-“Someday”- Sounding as tough as their hometown of Detroit, The Dirty Notion’s “rough around the edges” style is a homage to skinhead reggae, according to the band. I agree 100% with this assessment.  Although this is probably my least favorite sub-genre of ska, The Dirty Notion does it well.  Grade: B-

20.  Madaline-“I Don’t Have Friends with 1-800 Numbers”- I love, love, love bands that have both a female and male singer sharing responsibilities. I did not appreciate the male lead in this song, as much asthe gal, however their overall sound prompted me to check out their other tunes.  “I Don’t Have Friends with 1-800 Numbers,” is a solid song but I enjoy most of their other tunes much more.  This band rocks!  Grade: B

 

  1. No Cops For Miles-“It Doesn’t Matter (Feat.The Worst & The Stupid Stupid Henchmen)”- The screaming is awful.  The vocals and the instrumentation seem to be going in completely opposite directions.  Also it sounds as if this was recorded in a garage.  Grade: F

 

  1. Part One Tribe-“Selena”- Part One Tribe, helmed by ROB-D brings it with their reggae rock style.  The vocals seem to be coming out of a much older gentlemen, which adds some much appreciated depth to their sound.  Why have I never heard of this band before? Grade: A-

 

  1. Stupid Flanders-“Infectious”- Acoustic guitars rarely work for me, when it comes to incorporating it into the genre.  They quickly switch to more familiear territory with the typical thirdwave guitar riff and blaring horns.  Fun song!  Grade: B

 

  1. The Great Asian Psycopath-“Politricks”- These guys are a 2-piece punk outfit (with a virtual drummer!) addling just a sprinkle of ska to the mix.  There was really nothing here that really stood out for me about this song.  Grade: C

 

  1. The Hempsteadys-“Charlie Dynamite”- Starting out with a bit of a disco flare, the instrumentation hear is top-notch.  Once again, not being in love with the vocals, I downgrade only based upon that.  Grade: B

 

  1. Navarro & The Traitors-“Youth Not Wasted”- While I like the unique vocals of Eric Abbey, this song was just ok with me. There seems to be a lot going on in this gritty tune, and I’m not sure they all flow together.  Grade: C

 

Threat Level Burgundy!

Calling Massachusetts their home, Threat Level Burgundy has released a new LP entitled “The Longest Day.”  Let’s check out the ska punk style of this 7-piece outfit which was born in 2008.  Here we go…

 

  1. “Dragons…”-As the name suggests, Threat Level Burgundy comes out roaring with “Dragons.” Style-wise, this sounds like something off of the “Engine of a Million Plots” album ala Five Iron Frenzy.  Although the singing is a bit cumbersome at some points, this is a pretty solid number.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Never Forgive”-Ska of the danceable variety is found in this next ditty. This tune features the same vocalist as the first in addition to another that sound a little like the lead singer from They Might Be Giants.    Grade: B

 

  1. “Never Forget”-Pick it up! After building momentum in the beginning part of the song, there is a quick transition to become the lightning fast ska I grew up on.  The horn section is a major stand-out here, making me want to jump off the couch and start skankin’!  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Face Off”- Fantastic song-smithing is found in “Face Off.” My one critique here is that the harder style vocals didn’t quite go along with the otherwise fun, light-hearted tone of the rest of the song.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Caesar”- Raw punk guitar meets peppy, in your face horns in “Ceaser.” Once again this was a solid tune, which was down-graded due to some awkwardness with the vocals.  Grade: B

 

  1. “1-Up!”- I grew up on both Nintendo and Super Nintendo, so I totally dig the subject matter.  In addition, this is a great horn-driven rock number.  Love it!     Grade: A-

 

  1. “Calibrations”-Cue the gang vocals! Gritty street punk with horns, almost as if Rancid stole a brass section.    Grade: B+

 

  1. “Guest Check”- To be honest, this song is all over the place. The vocals are repetitious and do not mesh with the music. I did like the horns, however.  Grade: C

 

  1. “Christmas Cheer!”- Definitely the hardest Christmas song I have ever heard.  I’m not sure if will evoke much holiday spirit, but it will make you raise your rock fist high.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Kentucky Fried Clay (The Longest Day) – Dabbling with a softer pop-punk style (dare I say emo?) Threat Level Burgundy finishes with the best song on the entire album.  The horn section plays more of a backing role to the otherwise tender vocals.  Nice job guys.  Grade: A-

 

After almost 3 years of reviewing ska albums this was the first album that I felt like I almost needed to write two reviews; one for the instrumentation and another for the vocals.  Threat Level Burgundy’s “The Longest Day” has a lot going for it, from the classic punk guitar stylings to the blaring horn section.  The melodies to each song our distinct from the one before and will be difficult to get out of your head.  A lot here reminds me of up-tempo, brass driven bands that made me fall in love with ska in the first place.  You will find few who can match the musical quality found here.    For me the vocals were a different story.  As a personal preference, I did not care for either of the two vocalists voices.  Second, it seems as if the vocals were written without the instrumentation in mind many times, making some of the songs feels forced and that the vocals and instrumentation did not go together.  If it weren’t  for that fact, I would have given most of these songss and A rating.  With personal preferences aside, this is a pretty solid release which will find a nice home on the ska punk playlist on your iPod. Give these dudes a listen!

 

Overall Grade: B

 

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