As a follow up to their 2011 EP “Midwest Excess” I bring you the debut full-length from 4 Aspirin Morning (4AM). 4AM has been bringing their punk infused ska (or is it ska infused punk?) from Madison, WiSKAnsin since 2009. In just 5 years as a band, they have gained much recognition in the Madison area and have opened up for some of the biggest names in the genre (Mustard Plug, The Toasters, and the Mad Caddies). Without further ado, I bring you “Ca$h Poor, Liquor Rich!”
1. “Welcome to the Neighborhood”- 4AM starts out with a drunken bar-brawl of a song in the style of the Dropkick Murphys (sans bagpipes of course). The horns are blaring and in your face near the start and fill out the rest of the song amongst the raucous backing vocals. Grade: B+
2. “Carve the Sky”- This tune has a definite 90’s ska-punk sound created not only by the excellent horn section, but also by the guitar as well. Speaking of the guitar, don’t miss the sweet solo at the 2 minute mark, followed by the trumpet. The lead singer sounds like an angrier version of the vocalist from Culture Cry Wolf. Grade: B+
3. “Cemetery Song”-If one song can raise ska from the dead, it would be this one. Great horn section that will drive you into the mosh pit for sure. Grade: A-
4. “Dig a Hole”- After what looks to be a pretty classic punk song, 4AM slows things down (just a tad). Around the 2 minute mark is where all hell breaks loose! Overall, a decent song, but not my fave. Grade: C
5. “3 Chords…” Another song in the vein of the 3rd wave style, but still pretty hard. I really enjoy how one horn plays a slightly different part then the rest. Nice job on this “kick to the teeth of a song”. Grade B
6. “Super 77”-This song features great use of the saxophone. Too often bands have their sax player play along with the brass, thus muting the overall sound. The sax works as a great stand-alone instrument during part of this song. Grade: B+
7. “YSHBA”- Another sloppy drunk song, which reminds of a song that inebriated pirates, would sing. The raspy, growly vocals really add to the overall feel of the song. Grade: B+
8. “Sidesteppin”-Overall, I like this song. I like it a lot; crunchy guitars and great horn lines. I’m not sure if growly vocals really match the instrumentals, but all in all this is a solid tune. Grade: B
9. “This is it”-this one has more of a 90’s alternative feel (with horns) vs. a punk or hardcore vibe. This song is amazing. Nothing more to say. Grade: A
10. “Anarchy Cake”-This little ditty has a more of a pop-punk feel with similar vocal stylings to “This Is It.” Another amazing tune. Grade: A
11. “Goodbye to Good Intentions”- With a nice mix and of singing and screaming, this is one scorcher of a song to close things off. Don’t miss the killer guitar solo at the 3 minute mark. Grade: B+
After listening to this album, it is easy to draw many comparisons to other, more seasoned bands in both the ska and punk worlds. I have listed some of these bands above, but I can also see some similarities to Anti-Flag as well. If I had to pick one band that 4AM sounds the most like, it would be the Insyderz, both with their hard-hitting instrumentation and similar vocal styles. The lead singers in both of these bands have quite the vocal range, and can switch between powerful singing voices and raspier, more growling type vocals. The only critique I have of “Ca$h Poor, Liquor Rich” is that I did not resonate as much with the raspier vocal style used in some of the songs, as I did with the vocal style used in “This Is It” and “Anarchy Cake.” The more hardcore vocal sound seems to work in some songs like “YSHBA” but does seem to match the theme of the music in such songs as “Sidesteppin” and “Dig a Hole.” This is mostly just personal preference and there have been several ska acts along the way that have adopted a more raw sound (Think Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Slapstick and The Voodoo Glow Skulls).
Technically speaking, this album sounds great and is on par, if not better, than some of the recordings by seasoned veterans of the genre. Each member’s part is heard clearly and does not drown out any other members’ part. The horns are in your face, as they should be, as some ska bands have these more subdued in the background.
Musically, I was very impressed with not only the horn section but the guitarist as well. As mentioned earlier in this review, a lot of saxophonist tend to drown out the brass section which takes away much of the punch. Not here; the mellow sounds of the sax and accompanied nicely by the more blaring trombone and trumpet. One thing that gets lost is sometimes in ska is the musicianship of the guitar player, as they are stuck playing either the classic “ska guitar” riffs for endless punk power chords. Again, not the case here. Several songs feature killer solos which add to the entire package.
4AM certainly has the musical chops to play with the backing of larger record companies such as Fat Wreck Chords, Epitaph Records or Even Asian Man records. While this is only their freshman LP, 4AM can hang their heads high, and can stand toe to toe with ska’s heaviest hitters. Look forward to seeing them at a Warped Tour Stage near you! Overall Grade: B+