Easy*Life Ska Reviews

THE CABLES - What Kind of World
CD - 1991 Heartbeat Records
review by yana

This brilliant reissue from Heartbeat records features some of the best rocksteady from the late '60's; not to mention a killer sleeve. The melodic backing vocals on a few tracks intensify the fact that the Cables were heavily influenced by American Soul artists. The Cables soulfully croon their lyrics about heartache and love in songs like "Be A Man", "Cheer UP", and the title track, "What Kind of World", which are my favorite tracks on the CD. Lyrics like "Got to find someone who will give me their love" or "Cheer up my brother, you have been hurt love" really brought out the sentiment in me - call me mushy. Aside from all that sentiment, this album has got an incredibly original sound that make the songs extremely danceable; a substantial danciness full of down-to-earth blues and soul. So if you are more into the traditional sounds of Jamaica, I highly recommend this album.

CATCH 22 - Keasbey Nights
CD - 1998 Victory Records
review by megan

Some standard late 3rd wave ska with ska-punk overtones, Keasbey Nights isn't the best or worst of today's ska. Good points include the minute and a half instrumental "Riding the Fourth Wave", the nice lyrical phrasing of "Sick and Sad", and the quick upbeat that the band uses for most of their songs (best in "Walking Away", "Dear Sergio", and "Sick and Sad"). Overall, they have a good sense of how to construct a song, and throw some interesting elements into the standard ska-punk mix.

Bad points tend to center around the cliches that Catch 22 has picked up. First there's the tough-guy, rudeboy with a gun lyrics of "9mm and a Three Piece Suit" and the title track. Then there's "Kristina She Don't Know I Exist", musically bad ska-as-nursery-rhyme that becomes instantly annoying. The final track, "12341234" is also pretty derivative of Operation Ivy, though the band's thank-you's to friends and family at the end of the song is pretty funny. While I like Keasbey Nights the more I hear it, it's not strong enough for me to outright recommend. If you're a fan of 3rd wave/punk-ska or find the album on sale though, it's not a bad buy.

THE CHANCERS - Tuffer Than Tomorrow
Tape - 1999 Self-released
review by megan

Who knew the Czech Republic had a ska scene, never mind a band as together as The Chancers? Their demo, Tuffer Than Tomorrow features five studio tracks (four of which will be on their CD due out within the next few months) and four live tracks, all drawing on the European third wave ska sound. What the Chancers have going for them is a good matching of music and vocals (the lyrics are in English) and a slightly darker style than most currant U.S. ska. All the songs here are well-put together, and after multiple turns around the tape deck, I still enjoyed listening to Tuffer Than Tomorrow (with the exception of the unending, very '80's style "Another Time/Place", which also reappeared as one of the live tracks). Oddly though, there wasn't one song that stood out as being that much better or that much more creative. The strongest song was the title track, which reminded me quite a bit of the New York Citizens. There's also a cover of Selecter's "Missing Words" here, which, while not an improvement on the original, is still interesting.

I liked the Chancers sound and was impressed with the professional quality of the songs on the demo, even if I would like to seem them push their sound a little more to become something more unique. But I'll definitely be bookmarking their website and keeping my eyes out for their CD.

CD - 1998 Ska Satellite/Moon Records
review by megan

Originally due out nearly three years ago, Remember includes 12 tracks recorded between 1995 and 1997, most of which should be familiar to anyone who's seen the band live. While nothing beats the band's live show (an album, after all, can't duplicate Caz's fab on-stage Motown moves) Remember is a gem in its own right.

The band's style is very much soul/traditional, and unlike many female singers today, lead singer Caz can pull the sound off. Her voice is full, lovely, and capable of everything from the seedy growl of their version of "Walk Right In", to the near-lullaby of "Darling Boy", to the nasally Dance Hall Crashers-style "Walking in Threads". But my favorite original has to be "Josephine". Gliding seamlessly up and down the scale during the chorus, the vocals add a perfect counterpoint to the song's straight ahead beat.

And that beat is fantastic. The band is energetic and the music on par with that other modern trad favorite, The Skalars. The band's arrangements of "Walk Right In" and "Can't Hurry Love" are fun without betraying the style of the original. Their originals, like the rocking "On My Way" and "Live Happily", are straightforward and catchy. Lyrically, musically, and stylistically, this is a solid band and a terrific release.

CHICKENPOX - At Mickey Cohen's Thursday Night Pokergame
CD - 1996 Burning Heart Records
review by megan

Go halfway around the world for ska and what do you get? American ska. Of course, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and this release from Sweden's Chickenpox also isn't necessarily bad. There's variety on the album, from the up-tempo, peppy "Thirtysomethingrestlesslife" to the slower, more traditional lines of "Running Late". But there are also a few problems. For instance, "Stupid" has an amazingly annoying intro/chorus, the vocals on "Running Late" are definitely misplaced (it's a song which requires an actual singing voice), and "the night johnny tosh was killed" has some plain awful lyrics. But the overall problem that I had with at MICKEY COHEN'S... was that, like many passably good 3rd wave American bands, the songs are static. The band gets an interesting beat or rhythm going & lets it lie - the song gets repetitive, plain & simple.

And yet... there's something about most of the songs that grows on you. After 3 solid listens, even that sophomoric, annoying "Stupid" was sounding fun. When Chickenpox is on, they turn out some really good songs, like the dark, Madness-style "I won't change" and "sitting on my roof" or the quick "Thirtysomethingrestlesslife" (listen to the lyrics - it's cool). When they're off, they're still decent ska, if somewhat nondescript. At their worst, they're ska as "circus music", & even that's not so bad a thing. While I can't recommend at MICKEY COHEN'S... wholeheartedly, I can say it was just worth the $15 I spent on it. No regrets.

THE CHINKEES - Peace Through Music
CD - 1999 Asian Man Records
review by andrew galante

Peace Through Music is the second full length release from this six piece band from California led by Asian Man founder Mike Park. Organ driven, the Chinkees provide just about 35 minutes of pop/ska/ emo songs about racism, being proud of being Asian (all six members are Asian) and life experiences. Musically, they’re fun and interesting: most pop punk, and skacore bands just don't cut it for me. "Justice," "Christmas," "Tijuana Song," "Japanese Exchange Student," and "Run Away," are the notables on this disc. At the end of this record there's a short instrumental that has samples of Andrew Dice Clay and other symbols of racist comments. I didn't expect that to be on here--it just shocks you! After that there's a sample of people explaining about a racist incident that happened and it just makes you want to learn more about it. The Chinkees have something good here, good tunes. I thought that I wouldn't like it but I really dug it and they speak very clearly about awareness. The liner notes are very informative, explaining the songs and the band itself. 10% of the band's royalties from this record will go to Anti racist organizations.

Tape - 1999 Self-released
review by megan

It's funny when you get a dub of a demo tape without even a playlist but there are still hidden tracks on it. Will the horror never cease?

But anyway... I listened to this tape five times and still can't think of much to say about it. Corey Dixon and the Zvooks have an amateur sound, but one that's much more polished and shows more potential than most other local and just-starting-out groups. The music itself is put together well, with some nice hooks here and there ("Flip Floppin'" and "Got All My Life" in particular), and well the vocals are (not surprisingly) weak, Corey Dixon does have a decent voice on him that could definitely shine through with some polishing. So what's the problem?

Something's missing and I can't figure out what. The songs blend into one another too easily and get slightly repetitive, relying as they do on overemphasizing the off-beat. Add to that the fact that the lineup includes keyboards and three horns (alto & tenor sax and trombone) but the whole demo still lacks power. I kept wanting either the singer or the horns to let out with a real gut-wrenching wail pulled straight from the bottom of their soul--playing from the heart instead playing from the head. They've got the chops--I'd like to see them get the spirit.

CRITICAL MASS - Give It Up, Let It Go!
CD - 1997 Ska Satellite/Moon Records
review by megan

With some of the most apathetic song titles I've ever heard ("I Don't Care No More", "It Doesn't Really Matter", "What to Do") I expected something a lot less original than Critical Mass's first Ska Satellite release, Give It Up, Let it Go! Their track "I Don't Know What to Do" on Moon's Skarmaggedon3 compilation quickly became one of my favorites, but one good song doesn't always mean more will follow. In this case however, Critical Mass prove their musicianship with a great 3rd wave album.

Part of what makes many of these songs successful are the horns, or rather, the saxophone (the band's only brass). The horn lines in "What to Do" (a version of Skarmageddon3's "I Don't Know What to Do") and "I Don't Care No More" sound like something pulled from the 2Tone era (think The Beat) or out of the theme song for Britain's "The Young Ones" t.v. show. And the band is great at mixing disparate tempos & making them sound natural - both "I Don't Care No More" and "Pisco" use the slow-fast chorus, slow-fast chorus set-up that gets a lot of bands in trouble. But Critical Mass succeeds in blending the two tempos so that they complement one another, avoiding the trap of becoming repetitive & annoying.

There were some tracks on the album I could do without, such as the rap "Paid in Full" & its remix. The band seems to be walking a bit of a tightrope on this album between the young, in-your-face style of ska-punk/ska-core ("Ha, Ha, Ha (On Your Way Out)") and more subtle songs that call for a greater level of musicianship, such as the short but sweet "Las Ramblas" and the horn solo "I'm Old Fashioned". It's a credit to the band that they can do both well, but I'm interested to see what happens in the years to come. It seems like Critical Mass has the potential to turn into one of the stronger, more memorable bands of the 90's.

CRAWDADDY - Luche Libre
Tape - 1997 Self-released
review by megan

Crawdaddy's 5 song tape, Luche Libre, is, in their own words, "...another chance for us to take your money". It's also a teaser for their new album (out soon). Since the tape's a promo, the real question is: based on Luche Libre, is the forthcoming Crawdaddy CD worth buying? Yes & no.

Let's start with the "no" part. The main problem with the songs on Luche Libre is weak, breathy vocals. The lead singer's voice is passable in a song like "Love, Honor, Obey" (a poor Lenny Kravitz-type funk/soul/something which is the worst thing on the tape) and gains more power for the great swing tune "Swing Set", but it just can't measure up to the full power of the band. Which brings us to the "yes" answer.

The musicianship on the tape is tight, powerful, & inventive. While laying Latin rhythms onto ska songs is getting to be trite, "Luche Libre" pulls the Latin beat off by keeping it from becoming repetitive & playing the song with energy. And as I mentioned before, "Swing Set" is a solid swing tune & not just another poor ska imitation.

But what really makes the tape is Crawdaddy's cover of "The Theme From 'The X-Files'". One of the most inventive covers I've heard, & the best X-Files theme, the band does more than slap a ska beat under the song. They infuse it with energy and reinvent the theme, turning it into a kick-ass surf tune. If the rest of Crawdaddy's new CD sounds anything like this, it will be among the best of 1998. If not... well, there are still worse things to spend your money on.

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