Easy*Life Ska Reviews

CD - 1998 Dill Records
review by megan

The liner notes for these ska/punk compilations explain that in creating the Dillinquents CDs (there are 2, green & red) Dill wanted "to have as much variety as possible". On the one hand this is pretty funny, because all the songs on the CDs are either ska-punk or punk. But within these two narrow styles, Dillinquents actually does achieve its goal of diversity, both for better and for worse.

The overall rule of thumb for both discs is that the punk tracks are better than average and the ska-punk tracks just average, or worse. There's also a greater range among the punk tracks, from the one-note, straight-ahead garage punk of Homeless Wonders ("Stephanie") to hip-hop influenced "Weed" from Crumar to the 50's girl group meets punk rock of The Donnas ("Lana & Stevie"). Of the ska tracks on the red disc Agent Twenty-Three's "Belly" isn't bad and Grimskunk's "Perestroiska" is serviceable too. But the only ska style track that I actually liked (besides the hidden track) was CFB's "Long", which interchanged an almost oi chorus with a dark upbeat.

On the other hand, there were enough decent punk tracks to recommend Dillinquents. On the red disc, the Missile Command track "Peeping Tom" was tight and a good example of the "less punk more rock" sound. Slab uses actual singing to good effect (and ends up sounding not unlike Bad Religion) in "Old Shoes", and Human Beans's "Sodomy" is just good old punk. But The Donnas blow everyone out of the water with the rock-n-rollin' "Lana & Stevie". Of course, most all the tracks would be better if 1/2 the bands didn't use the cheesy, cliched breakdown in the middle of their songs (are you listening Middlefinger, Rudiments and Suckapunch?)

Besides having some of the worst band and song names I've seen in a long time, not a few of which were named after childhood icons (Sam The Butcher, Gargamel, Boba Fett), the green disc isn't quite as interesting as the red. The Impossibles sing my favorite song, and do a good job sounding like the ska version of J. Church (that's a compliment), Slapstick turns in a nice punk tune (sort of a cross between Fifteen and Blink 182) and Skeptic Tank's "I Hate the World" may have been a piece of fluff, but it was still good. After that the songs begin to blend into one another, and once again the hidden track is one of the best songs on the CD.

From the good to the bad - Four's "Are We Friends" is ska-punk at its most unlistenable, with awful, whiny vocals and a progression you've heard a million times before. The Boro City Rollers' "Piss Warm Chongo" is as awful as the name suggests, and the best that can be said for Slow Gherkin's "Bad Driver" is that it's only 42 seconds long.

What it comes down to is buy Dillinquents for the punk - avoid it for the ska. And if you can only get one disc, your best bet is Dillinquents Red for better variety and better quality.

CD - 1997 Simmerdown Productions
review by megan

I was looking forward to Simmerdown's Girls Go Ska compilation, excited over the prospect of a CD dedicated to the voice of women in ska. Unfortunately, if this compilation is any indication, that voice is pretty generic. While that other all-female compilation, Shanachie's Ska Down Her Way: Women of Ska, had it's own problems (most notably the inclusion of all-male bands "featuring" female singers), at least it had diversity. Women not only sang sweet & slow, but screamed loud. While many of the bands on Girls Go Ska are good or show promise, none stand out amidst the pack. They all seem to be working from the same jazz/soul/ traditional base with only a few bands adding anything new to the formula.

Some of the high points include the Skalars (nee Isaac Green & the Skalars) "Don't Count" and Highball Holiday's "Why?", both of which were released on the bands' own albums. The Stimulators add ska-trance to the mix with the spooky "Gate Crasher" while Ocean 11 does a crazy retro '50's tune with "Miss Understanding"that showcases the singer's voice well. Dunia & the Stable Boys and Franceska turn in 2 of the more interesting songs ("I Can't Touch You" and "Wasted On You" respectively), both well-sung soulful numbers featuring lyrics of lost love. In fact, Franceska's "Wasted On You" is probably the strongest on the album. And we finally get to hear a lady belt out with SMA's "Big Guy", a song I didn't like at first that grew on me.

Of course there are also those songs that just don't make it. It's always been funny to me that female singers in ska are expected to actually be able to sing & that those ladies who can't still try to (a la Ms. Stefani). Why not just shout & yell & growl like so many punk rock girls (& a good number of ska boys) love to do? Better that than fall back on sing-speak (like the unsuccessful "Don't Step On My Finger" from The Solicitors), overdone vibrato (Viskasity's "Hey"), or nasally whining masquerading as singing (Metro Stylee's painful "Destroy" and The Skeptics's "Shuffle Your Feet"). Of course, this isn't a complaint for the girls only, but in the same way we expect guitarists & bassists & drummers to know how to play their instruments, so too should singers be expected to use their instruments to the best of their abilities.

Whereas Ska Down Her Way treated us to both the gentle lullabies of The Checkered Cabs & the punk rock yell of The Skandalous All-Stars, the girls of Girls Go Ska only present one version of the female voice. Jazzy & sweet as that voice may be, it does get boring.

LAND OF THE RISING SKA: The Best of Japanese Ska
CD - 1997 Moon Ska Records
review by megan

You wouldn't know it to listen to the radio or watch MTV, but ska does exist outside of California. In an effort to broaden fan horizons, Moon has released Land of the Rising Ska, a 12 song, 12 band taste of Japanese ska; a fun CD that proves how diverse ska is.

The CD begins with the frenetic 2Tone sound of the Oi-Skall Mates, who get the whole thing off to a great start with "Nutty Sound Oi-Skall Mates". This is followed by The Coke Head Hipsters funk influenced "Here Your Pop Food". Then on to Rude Bones & the traditional style "Short of Time". And its back to 3rd wave with Scafull King.

Besides the album having a great mix of songs, it also has just plain great songs. The instrumentals "Down Town Blue Moon-Junky Days" by The Sideburns and "Determinations" by Lion Bite are both really pleasant songs that sneak up on you - you don't notice that your foot's started tapping in rhythm. I've already mentioned the Oi-Skall Mates, who start off their song with the Madness style yell of "This is Japanese Nut Sound!". And the ska punk on the disc isn't even that annoying - Duck Missile's "Push Out" is a pretty darn good Operation Ivy style song .

It's nice to hear what forms ska has taken in the rest of the world, and its even nicer when some of that music is quality. With its mix of solid tunes, Land of the Rising Ska lives up to its title and brings out the best in Japanese Ska.

CD - 1998 DVS Media
review by johnny fantastic

A nice compilation featuring some of the finest bands around, but unfortunately also featuring some of the opposite. The best tracks on the album:
Dion Knibb and the Agitators, "Turn Your Lamps Down Low", has a wonderful traditional sound. The melodies could be right from the sixties, and with the vibe of the old tunes.
The Pilfers' "Generation" rocks with a high energy drive.
On "Who's Foolin' Who?", The Mighty Mighty Bosstones exhibit just a higher level of musicianship and talent than pretty much every other ska band today.
Steady Earnest's "She Took Off My Romeos" is an enjoyable live cut, though the lyrics are difficult to make out and the chorus gets old fast.

Worst on the album include:
Defactos, "Sunshine" -- Terrible song. It's bad enough live, recorded it doesn't get any better. Neither do their alter ego, the Latin ska band "Los Defactos". And why include them when they no longer exist?
Spring Heeled Jack, "Waiting, Watching, Drinking" -- I don't like them. Real fratboy ska band. If you're a frat boy, and my condolences if you are, you'll like this band. If you are anyone else, you'll be completely unimpressed. Or, you'll wish it wasn't included on this album.
Johnny Socko, "Hasselhoff" -- The horn intro is too similar to the Pietaster's "Maggie Mae". This is a good effort on a theme that has long deserved attention, but the end result doesn't do it justice. A good idea, but a bad song.

Bim Skala Bim, "Rain and Pour" -- A good song, but why did they choose this reggae for a "Mashin'" comp. And the dub version at the end of the CD is complete overkill. What were they thinking?
Toasters, "Worry '98" -- a good song, but again, a little out of place on this comp. They have great new tunes, so why include such an old song that is far less than classic Toasters?

CD - 1997 Jump Start Records
review by megan

A year or 2 ago I was busy lamenting to anyone who'd listen how much I missed the swing in ska. Every band I heard seemed to be reaching to ska's jazz roots but I wasn't hearing a lot of big band power coming through the upbeats (like The Pietasters's "Factory Concerto" - still the height of ska-swing for me). Well it's time to bite my tongue. Jump Start has put out a lovely compilation chock full of swing-influenced (and jazz-influenced) ska.

The stylish cover sums up the CD nicely - in it, a mix of well-dressed 50's-style swingers mingle at a party. And the CD is perfect party music - the sort of thing to put on when you've got a group over for a not-so-casual night of low-key whatever. There aren't a whole lot of stand-out songs on the CD, but there isn't a single lousy one either. Skavoovie & the Epitones show up, lending their inimitable style to the playlist with "Bli-Blip" & The Stubborn All-Stars check in too with a nice (if lengthy) live version of "Confucius". Cherry Poppin' Daddies do what I think is the best swing-style track out of them all with the slightly ominous "Brown Derby Jump", & The Kingpins's "The Ten Commandments of Ska" was a perfect choice to start the album & a great song in it's own right (both lyrically & musically). It's just too bad that Suspect Bill's less impressive "The Dipsy Doodle" followed it - the female singers sound nearly identical. I found some of the other songs, like Dr.Raju & The Solicitors tracks, grew on me the more I listened to the CD, and while Midnight Radio is overall pretty low-key, it's also pretty enjoyable.

CD - 1995 Radical Records
review by megan

Recorded at the 1995 Skalloween party at Coney Island High, Oi!/Skampilation: Vol. 2 recalls the good ol' days when ska and oi shared a bill and fun was had by skin and ska kid alike. *Sigh*

I was at this particular Skalloween, so I love the CD just for the pleasant memories. But on it's own, the music stands up. The sound is excellent, especially for a live album, & the mix of bands reflects the bill exactly - varied styles but all definite quality. I'm more of a ska kid than an oi fan, so my favorite tracks were the ones with that familiar upbeat. The Slackers show up with a fun cover of the "Munsters Theme", and The Skavengers song "Good At Everything" makes me even sadder that they broke up. I was surprised by Pist'N'Broke - I had no memory of seeing them (it was 2 years ago after all) but thought both of their songs, "Done By The Union Boys" and "Pist'N'Broke" were great. But of course, nothing can stand up to the sheer ska/oi influenced melodies of Inspecter 7 and The Skoidats. Both bands have a couple tracks on the CD, and if that's not reason enough to buy it, then don't bother reading any further.

If you like your ska fast and hard, and your oi, well... oi, then you probably already know about Oi!/Skampilation. But if not, go buy it dammit! It's definitely worth the dollars.

PURO ESKANOL: Latin Ska Underground Vol. 1
CD - 1997 Aztlan Records
review by megan

I'd recommend buying Aztlan's Puro ESKAnol if only for the picture of the scooter-riding skeleton on the inside cover - Sean Wyett, who provided the artwork for this compilation, did a great job mixing the Latin and ska images to make a cover that's both rough and damn cute (dig the baby skeleton at the bottom). The music? That's not as exceptional.

Overall, the CD is pretty decent, with a few standout songs - Orixa starts everything off with a harder, rockier ska song "Srcudete", which reminded me of some BimSkalaBim songs, while Las 15 Letras's song "supertortas" reminded me a bit of a Toasters tune. Los Hooligans adds a rhumba style song, "Piel Camela" that's perfect for dancing, and Yeska's "Greyhound to Chirpas" features a full, repeating horn line that I think makes the song. But the overall problem, with these songs and the CD on the whole, is that they're all too long. Nearly every song could have ended a minute or two earlier without losing anything - like Los Mocosos, who's "Soul Mocoso" I enjoyed at first, the songs didn't develop with the added time, but just repeated the same musical phrases over and over. In the end, this outright killed a few of the songs for me and just made me wish the album would end. A few seconds trimmed off here and there would have made for a whole different listening experience.

compilation - 1997 Shanachie Entertainment
review by megan

Ignoring the horrible cover art of a "ska superwoman", Shanachie has succeeded in putting out one of the most solid compilations I've seen lately, and one focusing on women no less. The CD covers every style of ska played and sung by women. My favorite tracks are The Skandalous All-Stars frenetic cover of the Cycle Sluts' "I Wish You Were A Beer", Agent 99's "Look At You Now", the old-school sound of The Checkerboard Cabs "Darling Boy", and of course, the incomparable Doreen Shaeffer & The Skatalites with the classic "You're Wondering Now". The big surprise on the album was Mobtown. I hadn't heard them before, but their "Pussy Cat Love", with the rising and falling vocals and horns and the swingy ska beat, was a great treat.

There were only two tracks that I didn't like on the album (out of 16), and even those weren't that bad. I did find it odd that old tracks & songs (like Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" and Bim Skala Bim's "Hung Up") were included, but both songs are excellent so why complain? The only fault I could find with Ska Down Her Way is the inclusion of 2 tracks "featuring" female vocalists from bands that normally don't have female members. Besides that though, I have to recommend Ska Down Her Way for the variety and quality of songs included on it. There's something for everyone, male or female, to dance to.

CD - 1997 Moon Records
review by megan

For the 3rd Skarmageddon release Moon Records has divided the 2 discs between styles - CD one is "Old-Skool/2Tone" while CD 2 is "Post-2Tone, Ska-Punk & Beyond". My taste in ska leans towards 2Tone & original 3rd wave bands (BimSkalaBim, early Toasters, Skaos), & I've never really taken a shine to this new-fangled "Ska-Punk", but I was thrown for a loop by Skarmageddon 3's 2nd disc. There were a huge range of styles, proving that "ska" means different things to different people. Not all of them worked completely, but there were more good, fun tracks than I had expected. "Conspiracy" by The Go-Go Rays was hysterical fun (very dark and seedy), Critical Mass's "I Don't Know What to Do" is so neat & catchy it stays with you for days, and Angry Planet's "Robbin' Hood" reminded me of the early 3rd wave bands I miss so much. If you like J. Church, you'll like their ska counterparts The Impossibles. If you like Operation Ivy though you might want to listen to "Hectic" again & not bother with the Big D and the Kids Table track, which reaches for their sound but doesn't quite gel.

My initial reaction to disc 1 was that it was okay, but nothing terribly exciting (note: Instrumental does not equal Traditional). The more I listened to it though, the more I liked it. Like disc 2, there's a little something for everyone. Some of the best tracks were Low Pressure's "Secret", which added dual female vocals to some interesting and danceable music; King 7 & the Soulsonics, whose "Rude Boy Invasion" was old-fashioned ska music, pure and simple; The Lemon Merchants with the high-energy "Osakis Football Rules", and my favorite song on either CD, Highball Holiday's "Poetry in Motion" (also the only song I'd classify as 2-Tone). There was only one song on disce one which I'd call just outright bad (Johnny Too Bad & the Strikeouts's overly dramatic "Doesn't Matter") and one song out of 23 is a pretty good average.

All in all, Skarmageddon 3 is worth picking up, if only to see exactly how varied and rich the sound of ska is these days.

SKARMAGGEDON 4: Armaggedon Time
CD - 1999 Moon Records
review by megan

Two things have always been true of the Skarmaggedon compilation series. 1) About half the comp was good to great, giving exposure to a lot of bands that later broke big, and accurately reflecting a diverse modern ska scene. 2) About half the comp was bad to crap. The newest Skarmaggedon keeps in the tradition of earlier versions by putting a good mix of artists together (there are 40 tracks total, between two discs). But whereas previous Skarmaggedons had some fantastic hits (and some ridiculous misses), #4, like so many modern ska compilations, is pretty much middle of the road from start to finish.

There were only two songs here that made me want to run out and find the band. The song "Rude One" by Judge Roughneck, (sounding like a 90's version of The Beat) and Crazy Baldhead, which is so beautifully weird its indescribable. Other standouts among the mediocre group were The Kingpins with a 60's style spy theme, The Freakin' Cads and Short Millie with nice lyrics and phrasing, Rocker T & the Version City Rockers with sweet trad, and believe it or not, Skabba the Hut with "Fat Guy On My Head". I also have to fess up and say that I really enjoyed the Step Lively and Slow Gherkin tracks, even though I hadn't liked them when I originally heard them on their respective albums. Go figure.

Which brings me to the other strange thing about Skarmaggedon 4 - I felt like I'd heard a lot of the songs before. Deals Gone Bad's "Pirates" was already released 6+ months ago. Same with Catch 22, Step Lively, and Slow Gherkin. As some one who has to listen to a lot of ska, I would have preferred some unreleased or newer material.

While Skarmaggedon 4 doesn't have as many standout winners as past years, it doesn't have as much crap either. In fact, I only actively disliked three songs - "Whatchya Doin'?" from Conehead Buddha (I'm not a fan of funk), Bloom's annoying thrash "1985", and The Diablotones' "Ecuador", mainly because the horn intro is blatantly ripped off from The Pietasters "Factory Concerto", note for note.

In the end the Skarmaggedon series is a warhorse that keeps on rolling no matter what, and more power to Moon for that. I blame my lackluster response to this installment on the fact that the pickings are slim - a lot of bands these days are, at best, average. I hope that the next installment of Skarmaggedon will elicit a stronger, and hopefully positive, reaction.

CD - 1995 Receiver Records Ltd (available through Trojan Records)
review by megan

Pick up any 2 skinhead reggae compilations, do a side by side comparison, and you'll notice that there are more than a few similarities - usually, what you can find on one compilation you can find on a few others. So why did I bother reviewing Skinhead Jamboree? Because it's the first skinhead reggae comp that I heard & it's the one I fell in love with.

Not being anywhere near an expert in the genre, I can't tell you whether this is one of the best compilations of its kind around, but I can't imagine it's the worst. First off, it's got all the classics on it. The Maytals's "54-46 Was My Number" and "Pressure Drop", "Liquidator" from Harry J All Stars, "Longshot Kick De Bucket" from the Pioneers, & more Symarip than you can shake a stick at. "Skinhead Girl", "Skinhead Moonstomp", "Skinhead Jamboree", and "These Boots Are Made For Walking", all from the boss skinhead himself. There isn't a song on here that's lousy, & many of these tunes have become all-time favorites - I don't know how I made it through so many years without Claudette & the Corporation's "Skinheads A Bash Them" or Dave & Ansel Collins's "Double Barrel", my all-time favorite instrumental.

With its even blend of traditional ska & reggae, skinhead reggae is a powerful sound with a great beat, & Receiver's Skinhead Jamboree compilation does the sound justice.

CD - 1998 Red Raygun Records
review by megan

Because I'm not all that familiar with the Southeast ska scene, I can't say whether it's the place or the bands that make this compilation so mediocre. If the bands on Southeast USA Ska! represent the best of the bunch, then it doesn't seem like there's all that much going on down there. Generic ska and ska-core/ska-punk, none of the group truly stands out as possessing a unique voice or sound. The two bands that came closest, King 7 & the Soulsonics and Eartha Baxter, got me curious about the bands, but didn't make me want to drop everything and write for a demo. King 7's "Spooky Tricks" was a very weird voiceover to an instrumental that was different, but still worked musically. Eartha Baxter's "Because they can't" is pretty obvious, musically and lyrically, but still catchy and nicely executed.

The bad stuff on Southeast USA Ska! isn't even that bad, just annoying. By the 3rd time I listened to the disc, I was skipping past Regatta 69's "Microbus" before the first note hit. It's just that terrible. Perhaps more of a travesty, Rockin' Bones rips off the Specials, and they're not good enough to pull it off. And I'm sure that the intro to a.k.a. Rudie's "Dance Hall Ruler" is taken from something else too, but I can't put my finger on it. Otherwise, the song's okay. And that's about the best that can be said for this comp. Okay, but mainly uninteresting.

CD - 1999 New World Records
review by megan

This first release from New World Records is less a ska compilation than a music compilation with ska overtones. Don't get me wrong - there's a lot of straight up ska-punk here, most of it pretty okay. ReSol covers the Inspector Gadget theme song and, to their credit, makes the choice not to speed it up, and The Hippos have a short, poppy, number with "When Will I Learn?". But most of the bands seem to be playing off this new (I'll call it 4th wave) mix of ska and alt-rock, with a dash of hardcore or punk thrown in for the hell of it. The first track, Link 80's "Better Than Shit", is a good indication of the sound of the disc. A typically energetic ska-punk intro that launches full speed into an 80's thrash riff and back again, it's followed by Blue Channel's "Just Because", which is more radio-friendly hardcore than anything else. Between these two songs, you get an idea of the sound of this compilation.

While this type of music/ska music isn't generally my style, I can appreciate the work the bands are doing here, and the skill with which they do it. The songs are tight and are mostly well thought out. There are some great lyrics and titles here, like President Lemon's "She's The One For Me (She's the Girl Who Calls Me Back)", and I've got to like bands who put some thought into their music. There's also a variety to the songs and bands, making this a coherent compilation that doesn't get boring. Your Mama's So Fat... didn't make me a convert to this newest sound of ska, but it didn't turn me off. A good first effort from New World and worth checking out if you're a 3rd/4th wave or ska-punk fan.

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