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“An Original Blend” from Choke Artist Records

 

 

Have you ever heard of Choke Artist Records?  I must admit neither had I until I was informed of the new (in September) compilation they released.  Let’s do this…

 

  1. “Dark Sun Setting” (High School Football Heroes)- Right out of the gait, the High School Football Heroes start this album out with a bang.  Mixing pop-punk and ska is nothing new, but the extra emo feel kicks this one up a notch.  I love it!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Hollowed Out” (Dead Rejects)- After what seems like a very long intro, the Dead Rejects drop a pretty aggressive punk number.  I’m not super stoked about the lead vocalist’s voice, so I will downgrade on this fact alone.  Grade: C

 

  1. “Deny” (Still Alive)- Another aggressive song, cut in with classic ska-guitar is found in “Deny.”  I dig the synth-pop feel in the beginning of the song and wish it was carried throughout. Grade: B-

 

  1. “Stay on Your Side” (No Such Noise)- As with the first song on this album, there is an excellent blend of pop-punk and ska, with a definite slant towards the pop component.  This is a well-polished song with vocals that are easy on the ears.  Amazing!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Secretly” (Murphy’s Kids)-“Secretly” sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the other songs on this album. It is a slower ska song with a mellow vibe which makes you want to kick back and enjoy a cold one.  Fantastic saxophone and organ here.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Banshee” (Atrocity Solution)- Musically, this song has a lot going for it, with its high energy ska guitar, cut in with an aggressive punk sound. After the vocals started it reminded me a lot of the Dead Rejects (see above).  I will give this a similar score.  Grade: C

 

  1. “Ignorance is Bliss” (Poor Jeremy) – Of course there is the punk element, but this song makes you want to want to dance more so than any other thus far.  Don’t miss this killer horn solos.  Grade: B

 

  1. “The Take Back” (Hub City Stompers)-It is undeniable that the Hub City Stompers are true veterans of ska-punk genre. This noted, I have never been a huge fan of theirs.  Vocally, I think they shine more in the first 2/3 of the song with more mellow vocals which pair nicely with the saxophone.  It is the street-punk yelling type vocals near the end of the song that I just don’t resonate with.  Grade: B-

 

  1. “Ode to My Willpower (Survey Says!)- Survey Says! is at the top of the pack when it comes to their polished ska punk sound, mixing just the right amount of pop element.  Think New Found Glory with horns!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “The Tale of Ramirez DePietro” (Chilled Monkey Brains)- Many band before them have tried (and failed) to get a foothold in the music industry, by mixing several different musical styles.  On paper, mixing ska-punk and thrash metal seems like a recipe for disaster, but Chilled Money Brains have perfected their sound to create the most unique band I have heard in a while.  Throw  Dragon Force, Mad Caddies and NOFX in a blender and you have Chilled Monkey Brains.  I love this song!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Ctrl+Z” (The Best of the Worst)-If I had to make a comparison, I would say that “Ctrl+Z” is a lot like early Hawthorne Heights; punk mixed with screaming vocals (emo-screamo?).  The screaming doesn’t add anything for me, but rather detracts from the overall enjoyability of the tune.  Grade: C

 

  1. “Tribe” (Mrs. Skannotto)- “Tribe” has almost a ‘90’s alternative radio with horns feel to it. Throw in some punk elements as well, contrasted with smooth vocals, and you have one killer song.  It reminds me a little of the Urge.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Flea Market” (The Hempsteadys)- This song is just okay for me.  I’m not sold on the lead vocals, not to mention, I’ve heard about a million songs that sound like this.  It sounds like a bunch of drunken guys “singing” in a local pub. The saxophone solo is pretty sweet however.  Grade: C

 

  1. “Blow up the Moon” (Corporate Fandango)- This has to be the most bizarre tune of the album thus far.  It is a pretty fantastic instrumental with a definite spacey, psychedelic feel to it. Grade: A-

 

  1. “Litwop” (All People)- Sure there are horns, but I’m not sure this is a ska song per se. None the less, this is a pretty interesting instrumental, which starts out as a slow burn.  I dig it.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Their Them” (Stuck Lucky)- A creepy song that should ring through the hallways of your local haunted house.  This song is kind of a train wreck and my least favorite on the album.  Grade: D

 

  1. “I’m Getting Too Old for this Shit” (Kill Lincoln)- The horn section reminds me a lot of Less than Jake.  There is nothing groundbreaking here, but this is a great closing track.  Grade: A-

 

First off, I am a huge fan of compilations albums, as I have discovered many great bands this way. At a price-point of only $5 for 17 tracks, the newest release from Choke Artist Records will certainly not choke your pocketbook.  Although I am not a huge fan of every song on this thing, this is a very enjoyable listen which is packed with great  tunes from start to finish. Even within the sometimes narrow confines of the musical genres featured here, each band brings their own flavor, each varying the ration between ska, punk, pop, hardcore and others.  I personally enjoy bands that sway a little more to the poppier side of things, with such standouts as the High School Football Heroes, No Such Noise, and  Survey Says.  Other bands not found in the pop-punk group still received high marks based on pure enjoyability of the tune (Murphy’s Kids), ingenuity of sound (Chilled Monkey Brains), and flat out uniqueness (Corporate Fandango).  If I had to site one downfall with this album it would be including both ska and hardcore on the same album.  While some listeners may “swing both ways” musically, this listener does not.  I do not particularly resonate with screaming, yelling or growling vocals, but hey, to each their own.  To wrap up, this is a great album that you need to get your paws on, right now!

 

Overall Grade:

B+

 

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Best Band Name Ever!

Representing Annapolis, MD is the one and only Bumpin’ Uglies.  This 3-piece plays a blend of reggae, ska and punk and bring their stylings to the new EP entitled ‘Sublime with No One.”  Let’s get rockin’…

  1. “Warning”-   The opening track borrows elements of both ska and rock with slightly more emphasis being placed on the latter.  Excellent vocals carry this catchy tune.  Musically speaking, it reminds me a lot of “Me, Myself and I” from Culture Cry Wolf (sans the trumpet and rapping vocals).  A great start!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Social Ladders”- Classic third-wave guitars, pair nicely with the more laid-back vocals (and backing vocals) in “Social Ladder.” I’m diggin’ this slow groove of a song.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Nostalgia”- Overall, “Nostalgia” has a darker feel than the previous tunes on this album. Awesome guitars and just the right amount of dub make this s song a winner.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Maturity”- this was the only song where I thought that the missing ingredient was a strong horn presence. As soon as this thought popped into my head, the brass came onto the scene.  Overall this tune blends stereotypical ska sounds with alternative rock of the 90’s.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Fuck It”- Based on the title alone, I was half expecting a change in directions with a straight up punk number. True to form, the Bumpin Uglies lay down more of the reggae-laced vibes they are known for.  Another solid tune.  Grade: A

 

Although ‘Sublime With No One’ follows a string of releases dating back to 2011, I must admit this is my first exposure to this great band.  I mostly prefer bands with full horn sections and an organ, so how could a measly trio stack up?  After the first track I was instantly hooked.  The Bumpin Uglies make quite an impression over the course of only 16 minutes.  While there are only 5 tracks, the listener gets a definite feel for what this band is all about.  Each song has a distinct sound from the one before it, yet does not venture far away from the overall the sound that is band seems to have pretty well dialed in.  Musically speaking this is a cohesive unit that sounds better than a lot of bands twice its size.  In the sea of countless ska-punk, reggae-rock and just straight up “chlll-reggae” bands, the Bumpin Uglies rise to the top with ‘Sublime With No One.’  What makes this such an exceptional album is just how polished each song is, not to mention the strong vocals by Brandon Hardesty.  The vocalist alone can sometimes determine whether I love a band or hate a band.   Brandon has great range vocally and has certainly perfected his craft.  I really can’t say enough positive things about this album, only that I am thirsty for more.  So get bumpin’ and check out ‘Sublime with No One from the Bumpin Uglies!

 

Overall Grade: A

 

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Get Doped Up with the Doped Up Dollies!

After warming up their collective pipes on the ‘Fluent in Stroll’ album from Big D and the Kid’s Table, the Doped Up Dollies have decided to break out on their own.   Their blend of music, otherwise known as stroll was coined by Big D’s David McWane and  is a combination of “hop scotch, double dutch schoolyard rhymes, reggae, and soul.”  The Dollie’s debut is entitled ‘The New Way Out.’  Let’s check it out…

 

  1. “Make Your Own Sunshine”- There are a lot of great things going on in this opening track from this female trio, from the classic ska beat to the male backing vocals to the low roar of the organ.   Part 80’s pop and part 1950’s rock n’ roll, the Dollies have created a truly unique sound with this one.  I promise this song will get stuck in your head for days.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Papa Plays The Drums”- Aside from killer saxophone solos near the end and near the middle of the song, this is a straight up rock number. But much like “Make Your Own Sunshine,” this is reminiscent of the kind of rock that your parents (maybe even grandparents) used to listen to.  I dig it!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Me, Fireman and Lion”- Despite the double dutch-style vocals and nonsensical lyrics this song has grown on me since my first listen. I really enjoy the backing vocals and the touch of funk vibe it puts off.  Grade: B-

 

  1. “How Could I Go”- Slight ska influences are seen here along with the more dominant sound of 80’s pop rock. The vocals here are top notch! Get out your Aqua Net, and your leg warmers, because this song will rock your socks off!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Driving Around The Square”- If this song wasn’t about the classic muscle cars from the same era that the Dollie’s musical style stems from, this could be any Rudeboy’s Vespa riding anthem. Once again, there is a great mixture of Jamaican vibes and the sounds I grew up listening to (and still listen to) on the oldies station.  Good stuff.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “He Get Arrested”- More so than any song on the album thus far, this is the most reggae sounding one on here. I really enjoy the subtle touches of dub in here (most bands tend to overdue the dub sound in my opinion). This song is fantastic.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Skinhead”- The Dollies change course once again, by laying down a highly danceable tune found in “Skinhead.” While I always enjoy horns in ska songs, the vocals are so strong here that they are almost not needed.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Black Cat”- Vocally this is not my favorite song as it is done in the same style as “Me, Fireman and Lion.” Lyrically, it also doesn’t make a lot of sense.    Musically, this song is a scorcher from its blaring horns to the often overlooked guitar.  Grade: B
  2. “Be Free”- Special guest Coolie Ranx adds his legendary vocals to this soulful and playful ska tune. Excellent horns and vocal harmonization make this song a winner.  Grade: B+
  3. “Righteousness”- Very soulful vocals rule this upbeat ska tune. Using the same guitar riff as every other ska band out there, the Dollies have created a fresh new take that will turn the heads of ska fans and non ska fans alike.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Escape From Mount Olivedem”- If you don’t count the “oohs and ahhs” this is basically an instrumental of epic proportions. Borrowing elements from ska, and surf, among others, this tune belongs in either a James Bond or Tarentino film. Grade: A

 

  1. “Come Along”- The Dollies play more of a backup role in “Come Along” as the main vocals are sung by Big D’s David McWane. A great reggae number with a little sprinkle of dub for good measure.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “The Rude”- Creepy organs give this song a dark, gritty feel, which is in stark contrast to the more upbeat tunes on this album. This song is the stuff of nightmares, and I love it!  Grade: A-

 

To those who regularly read my reviews, you know that I have an affinity for female vocalists.  With the Doped up Dollies you get not one, not two, but three talented gals on the mic.  For those who have not heard The Dollies previous work (which I had not either) you have found a true gem of an album in ‘The New Way Out.’  For the ska or reggae purist, this is not, but for those looking for something new, fresh and quirky; this is THE quintessential album of 2015.  As a whole, this is unlike any album I have ever heard (which is not always a good thing), and is its biggest selling point.  Over the course of 12 tracks the Dollies journey through a slew of musical styles to include ska, reggae, rockabilly, soul, surf, doo-wop and the list goes on.  On paper it would seem like a recipe for disaster to incorporate so many different sounds, but the Dollies pull it off in a big way.  Each song is very distinct from the one before it, giving the listener an album that will not get stale over time.   In one breath they can sound like the Go-Go’s(“Make Your Own Sunshine”) and in the next they can sound like the Supremes (“ How Could I Go”).Having three capable singers makes the Dollies vocally some of the best I’ve heard, in any genre.  I certainly appreciate the ska and reggae elements here, (this is a ska website of after all) but what really stood out for me was that old style rock n’ roll feel that dominates many of the songs.  This style make the album feel old and new/fresh all at the same time.    The only downfall I see with this album is finding the right audience.  Will it be for the ska punk fan?  How about the more traditional ska/rocksteady fan?  I cannot say for sure, but what I can say that this is a musical ride you don’t want to miss.  Put on your saddle shoes, your poodle skirt AND your porkpie hat for this truly unique album.  Dig it!

 

Overall Grade: A-

 

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Show them some Duppy Love

 

 

Out for just over a couple of months is ‘Broken Organ’ from the Duppies.  The Duppies are a 7-piece straight out of Gainesville Florida.  The band began in 2004 and this latest release follows the ‘One Thousand Bullets’ album from 2010.  For now, let’s check out ‘Broken Organ’…

 

  1. “Broken Organ”- Straight out of the gate, the Duppies lay down a real scorcher in the title track. The melody constantly switches from slow groove to upbeat dance number. I love it!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Circles”- Any ska fan has heard many o’ songs that start the way this one does, but to say that this song is commonplace would be tragic. Lead micman Brian Hiebel adds a touch of soul to this tune.  Also the trumpet is fantastic, along with the rest of the horn section.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Ghost of San Juan”- Classic ska mixed with a Middle Eastern feel. There are not a lot of lyrics to this song, and honestly this could have been an instrumental.  Either way, this is a great tune.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Need You Around”- Killer horn parts and sweet lyrics make this one freakin’ sweet ditty. Again, the Duppies keep you guessing musically, as the rhythm changes several times.    Grade: A

 

  1. “Not this Time”- Pick it up, pick it up! The standouts in this song are the backing vocals, along with Brian’s powerful lead. Also, the organ is certainly not broken, proven by the nicely placed solo.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Suzy Q”- An updated rocksteady version of an old favorite. The horns really shine in this number.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Take Charge”- There is a nice contrast between Mr. Hiebel’s trademark raspiness with the smooth backing vocals. In addition, The Duppies deliver more of the good stuff found in the remainder of the album.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “East West”-From the lead vocals to saxophone solo, this song has somewhat of a dark, gritty feel to it. Grade: A-

 

  1. “Waste of Time”- A love song of sorts, I’m really digging the falsetto on the vocals as well as the low roaring organs. The horn section gives the listener a 70’s feel mixed with ska, of course!  Grade: A

 

  1. “What a Shame”- I hope you haven’t left the dance floor yet! Tighten the laces on your skankin’ shoe for yet another highly danceable tune!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Shipwrecked”- I was half expecting pirate music ala the ‘Rock the Plank’ album by the Mad Caddies. Alas, it is a groovy rocksteady tune more in the vain of Deals Gone Bad.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Shake and Move”- This little ditty will make you do as the title suggests, shake and move your body. This is a pretty solid number, although not my favorite.  B+

 

  1. “Nightcap”-Once you have heard one drinking song, you have heard them all. Maybe not.  A great horn solo pairs nicely with the smooth horn riffs alongside the extra raspy voice.  Cheers!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Pale Rider”-Paying homage to the film of the same name, “Pale Rider” has a definite western feel while sticking to its ska guns (pun intended). I really enjoy Brian’s voice in this as he has toned down the coarseness a tad.  This is in the running for the best tune on the album.  Way to finish strong!  Grade: A

 

 

To say that   ‘Broken Organ’ is a good album would be an understatement.  If you are a fan of the ska genre then ‘good albums’ (many of which I have reviewed on this site) are common, based on the flavor of ska you listen to.  If highly danceable, upbeat ska is your thing, than look no further.  The Duppies have given fans a lot to chew on with this 14 song album devoid of any fluff or filler songs.  I truly enjoyed every single song on here, which is saying a lot. I feel that a lot of bands that include a ton of songs on an album usually include a lot of experimentation with their sound, which often times can fall flat.  This is not the case here.  The Duppies have managed to keep each song sounding distinct from the one before it, yet never straying away from their brand of ska.  Brian Hebel works his magic vocally whether the song calls for a smoother sound (which I personally enjoy more) or a more gravely tone.   The instrumentation is also a standout here with excellent solos from almost everyone aboard.  This is one of the best albums I have heard in a while.  Earlier in the year I made a prediction for the best ska album of 2015.  If this does skank past the other for the top place, this is a close second. Show these guys some Duppy love and check this one out!

 

Overall Grade: A

 

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Things are Getting ‘Sketchie’

Hot of the presses is ‘Lost in Sedation’ by Sarasota, FL natives Sketchie. This latest release follows last year’s self-titled release. This 4-piece ska-punk unit has been hard at work seeing that they only formed last year. Let’s give ‘Lost in Sedation’ a little listen…

1. “Our Time”-Sketchie effortlessly switches from ska to punk with just a dash of surf from the start. The vocals fell a little flat with me, but overall this is a solid first track. Grade: B

2. “For Better or Worse”-There is certainly a ska element to “For Better or Worse” but the punk influences dominate. The vocals in this tune seem to be slightly more refined than on the first track. I dig it! Grade: B+

3. “Passing Phase”-Blistering fast punk rock! Don’t miss the killer guitar solo. Grade: B

4. “Freeze Up (Operation Ivy Cover)- I’ve never been a big fan of Operation Ivy, but in their cover of “Freeze Up” Sketchie pulls off an almost dead-ringer to the original, down to the guitar solo near the end. If I had to pick one as a favorite, I would lean towards Sketchie, as their version is a tad more polished than the Op.Ivy original. Grade: B+

If you like your punk with dose of ska then Sketchie is the band for you. Unapologetically loose in their style they remind me quite a bit of Operation Ivy. Including a cover song from this iconic band only seems fitting. At only 4 tracks in length, ‘Lost in Sedation’ gives both new and old fans alike a musical morsel that will keep them satisfied until the next full length is released. Although this album was apparently recorded in a garage, there is nothing lacking in sound quality. Musically speaking Sketchie plays a nice mix of straight up punk numbers as well as more ska-influenced tunes, sans horns of course. Vocally, Sketchie is what you would expect from a punk band, loud and gruff, but never grating. This being said, I did appreciate the vocals on the last three songs more so than the first. In summary, Sketchie pulls off a better than average collection of ditties on ‘Lost in Sedation’ that any punk purist will fall in love with.

Overall Grade: B/B+

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New Tunes from the Evokatones!

Do you know what is happening in September? The Evokatones are releasing their new self-titled album, that’s what! The Evokatones call Baltimore their home and have been bringing their brand of ska to the people since 2011. Let’s check out their sophmore release…
1. “To the Grave”-Cue the percussion and blaring percussion! Pleasant female vocals and Latin flavor start this album off on the right foot. Grade: A-

2. “Never Letting Go”- Lead vocalist Colleen Curran shares the mic with her male cohort in this slower skank-worthy number. I really dig the surf guitar solo at the halfway mark. Grade: B+

3. “Rudie”- While the term “Rudie” has obvious roots in ska and reggae culture, this song also brings in some musical influences from the easy listening tunes from the ‘70s. This song has definitely grown on me, with its chilled vibe and faux Jamaican vocals. Good stuff. Grade: B+

4. “On Your Way”- Get off your seat! This is the most straight-up ska number thus far on the album. “On Your Way” will turn any ska non-believer into an instant fan. Grade: A

5. “Back to the Living”- This horn-heavy number with classic ska guitar riffs will keep you skankin’ all night. Pleasant vocals and just a fun song overall. Grade: A-

6. “Roller Coaster”- Collen shares the singing duty once more. What a great example of ska mixed with soul. Grade: A-

7. “Against Me”- The Evokatones take a snarky turn in “Against Me.” The vocals here are amazingly edgy which pairs nicely with the brass and rockin’ guitar solo. Grade: A

8. “Conscious Beat”- “Conscious Beat” tends to be a bit repetitious at times, but the smooth vocals cannot be denied. Near the end of the song there is also great use of guitar and horn solos as well. A solid tune! Grade: A-

9. “Pipe Dreams”- Overall, this is not my favorite tune on the album, but it is a good song none the less. The horns are strong as usual, and vocally, The Evokatones keep the listener guessing. Grade: B

10. “Soul Police”-Colleen and Co. finish strong in this last number which is probably my favorite on the disc. Starting out slow, tension and anticipation builds, and then it switches to your classic upbeat ska tune. Amazing! Grade: A

For those of you have been reading my reviews for a while, you know that I am a huge fan of female-fronted bands. With Colleen Curran at the mic, the Evokatones are certainly no exception. Colleen’s voice shows a lot of range from the more Jamaican sounding “Rudie” to the more sweet, soulful take in “Soul Police.” This being stated Colleen does stay within her bounds and does not force anything she cannot pull off vocally. Musically speaking there are certainly influences from several different genres such as rock and Latin, but overall the main theme is ska. This is certainly refreshing, when it seems as if many bands try to redefine a genre of music instead of just putting their own little spin on it. The horns are prevalent in every song, and almost every tune features a guitar solo as well. Each of the 10 songs is distinct from the one before, giving this album a long shelf life. I know I have played this over and over on my commute to work and its enjoyability has not waned. Maybe you have not heard of this band before, but it’s time to start paying attention. This album is a skankin’ good time!

Overall Grade: A-

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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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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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Make Way for Rude King!

Hail to the King, the Rude King! Texas natives Rude King has just released a 7-song EP entitled ‘Coming Back to You.’ This 9-piece ska ensemble has been dishing out tunes since 2003. Let’s check this thing out, shall we?

1. “Walk Away”- “Walk Away” is a highly danceable, horn-driven number powered by not 1, but two vocalists. I would not consider this containing any punk elements, but the song certainly intermingles traditional ska with rock and roll. In short, this song has it all, from the aforementioned horn section, to the low roar of the organ to the solo near the end. Great stuff! Grade: A-

2. “Busted Now”-Rude King dishes out more of the same horn-heavy vibes as the first tune complete with rocksteady beat. The vocal harmonization between Jon and Vicki is fantastic. In fact, I think Vicki belts things out a little more on this vs. “Walk Away”. I’m diggin’ it! Grade: A

3. “Coming Back to You”- Heavy on the percussion and subtle guitar riffs, Vicki and Jon can not only shine together, but separately as well. Another scorcher. Grade: A-

4. “Love You Crazy”- Love songs and the ska genre do not always go hand in hand, but this is probably the best example I have ever heard. Although I enjoyed Jon in the previous songs, I think it was a good call to leave him out of this one. Vicki carries this one to a “T” with sweet, low-tempo instrumentation and backing vocals. Grade: A

5. “Helping Hand”- “Helping Hand” picks up the tempo in this skank worthy tune. Straight up ska at its finest. Grade: A

6. “Home Wrecker”- Put your skankin’ shoes away for a minute for this swanky big band number. The vocal stylings in this one makes this feel fresh from the era when swing/big band were king, even though this song is brand new. Grade: A-

7. “Save It For Never”-With more aggressive vocals, “Save it For Never” is the “hardest” track on the album, while still maintaining an overall ska feel. Solid tune, but not my favorite: Grade: B+

After listening to a TON of ska albums over the years, I always appreciate a band that can incorporate different musical genres into their own potpourri of sound. What is equally as impressive are the bands that stick within one genre and perfect the hell out of it. Enter: Rude King. Within this relatively short collection of tunes, Rude King lays down 7 tunes of pure, upbeat ska. We are not talking about punk with horns or the latest reggae rock clone, but the highly danceable, put a smile on your face, getting sweaty while skanking for hours, kind of ska. There is an excellent blend here of organ with a horn-driven sound. I usually prefer bands with female singers, but the paring of Jon and Vicki is truly unique and dynamite! This band has been around for a long time and for good reason. So go out and give “Coming Back to You’ a listen. Rude King is King!

Overall Grade: A-

 

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