So you say you’re into ska punk? Well let’s check out the latest from Chicago’s Beat the Smart Kids. The 12-song LP entitled ‘Broke Again’ is a follow up to last year’s EP. Let’s push play and crank this up to 11…
- “Rise Up!”-Beat the Smart Kids don’t mess around in this first track. The mellow saxophone is contrasted with the aggressive, no holds barred lyrical style. Don’t get caught in the middle of the mosh pit during this tune. Grade: B+
- “Chemical Reaction”-Skank it up! The classic ska beat is created by the organ here rather than the often overdone guitar. I really dig the switching off of vocalists as well as the killer horn solos. Grade: A-
- “Brain Pollution”- Although this is a “slow skanker” of sorts, it is not devoid of BTSK’s hard edge sound. The use of the line “pick it up” has (sadly) left the ska scene, but it shows up here in full force. Grade: B+
- “Emoticons”-“Emoticons” really has me torn-while I thought the first half of the song was monotonous and drug a little, the second half was probably the best crafted song thus far. What did it for me was the frenzied pace to the horns. I even dug the Rock Lobster-esque thing the lead singer does with his voice at one point. Great tune! Grade: A-
- “Blind Faith”- This next track showcases the organ more instead of having him play a supporting role like most of the previous tracks. This song has a lot going for it; however I feel that the different parts, both musically and vocally didn’t fit together as well as on other songs on the album. Grade: B
- “Ruby Crystals”- More ska punk with a little bit of metal influence. Not my favorite track, but definitely a solid number. Grade: B
- “Go to Bread”-With mounting tension from the get-go, this (more or less) instrumental will get your feet moving. This short little ditty is a winner! Grade: A-
- “One Point Twenty What?”-As one of my favorite movies of all time, I have to give kudos for the Back to the Future reference. Although the vocals were a bit aggressive for my liking, the horn section is top notch; some of the best I’ve heard on this album. Grade: B+
- “Life’s Lessons”- While there is nothing new here in terms of style, this is a slower groove, while still keeping the ska punk theme in the forefront. Grade: B+
- “Do Not Disturb”-“Do Not Disturb” takes a little while to get going, and frankly lacks some of the enthusiasm of previous songs. This is not a “bad” song by any stretch, it just did not drum up any urges to dance, skank or do anything for that matter. Grade: B-
- “You Haven’t Lived (‘Til You’ve Died)”- Now that’s more like it! Hop off your seat once more to go tear up the dance floor. Awesome waling saxophone. Grade: B
- “M.S.O.T.E”- With equal parts ska and hard punk, “M.S.O.T.E.” invokes a similar critique as “Blind Faith.” There are a lot of things going here with slightly awkward transitions between the tempo changes. I appreciated the slightly more aggressive approach taken here. Grade: B
Holding nothing back on ‘Broke Again,’ Beat the Smart Kids dish out a generous portion of ska-punk flavor over 12 tracks. Overall this album feels right at home with acts such as 4 Aspirin Morning, The Hub City Stompers (who are all coincidently playing Skappleton in a couple of weeks) and General Tso’s Fury. There are also glimpses of NOFX as well as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. While I did mention a few “song-smithing” issues I had, these problems were few and far between. Musically, ‘Broke Again’ is everything you would expect from an album in this genre; hard-hitting yet danceable at times as well. I am really impressed with the horn section that can just as easily play it cool in the background as it can slap you across the face with their booming sound. I always like bands with organs and BTSK is no exception. There is no escaping the ska sound with this often overlooked instrument. The vocals are gruff and raspy, which again is pretty par for the course. Beat the Smart Kids have not re-invented the ska punk wheel, but what they have done is created an enjoyable set of ditties that will freshen up your dusty collection.
Overall Grade: B+
Be a “Smart Kid” and check them out!