REEL BIG FISH Life Sucks…Let’s Dance!
Rock Ridge Music
Life Sucks…Let’s Dance! is the latest release from the everlasting Orange County ska-punk band Reel Big Fish. It’s their first full-length studio release since 2012’s Candy Coated Fury. What has the band been doing during those six years between records? They released Happy Skalidays (a six-song holiday EP in 2014), and they toured…and toured…and toured a little more. Reel Big Fish averages over 250 live shows a year spanning the globe, so it’s easy to forgive them for taking extra time to put out another record. No fear, Life Sucks…Let’s Dance! is well worth the wait.
The entire album sounds more like classic Reel Big Fish than previous efforts, and that’s no more evident than with the title track which opens things up. “Life Sucks; Let’s Dance” sounds like it could have been pulled straight from the pre-Jive Records era Reel Big Fish. With its bouncing horns and cheerfully depressing lyrics, “Life Sucks; Let’s Dance” sets the tone for a fantastic record.
The first single for the record, “You Can’t Have All Of Me,” tells the tale of a man trying to save a bit of life for himself amongst the demands and responsibilities of everyone around him. It is a solid offering and a great taste of the sound of the rest of the record.
Life Sucks…Let’s Dance! has all the staples for a Reel Big Fish record that fans have come to expect. Want a sappy love song? Try “In Love Again.” Need a song with a higher alcohol percentage? “Another Beer Song” is for you. Reel Big Fish even threw in a couple of covers for the die-hards with re-recordings of two Forces of Evil songs: “Ska Show” and “The Good Old Days.” The band closes out the record with a surprisingly laid-back instrumental about lead singer Aaron Barrett’s dog called “Walter’s Highlife.” Incidentally, Walter has his own Instagram account
I’ve been a fan of Reel Big Fish since 1996 when my friend Dave played their Teen Beef split 7” with Goldfinger. 22 years, 9 studio records, a live recording, 4 EPs, and a slew of compilations later, Reel Big Fish has cemented their legacy as the ambassadors of ska. 2018 has been an excellent year for ska, and Reel Big Fish has ensured the year ended on a 2-tone beat with Life Sucks…Let’s Dance!
You can buy the new record here or on iTunes. The band starts touring, again, in January 2019.
The threatening skies over Kent held off just long enough to have a clear evening leading up to show time. The downtown area surrounding The Kent Stage was already abuzz with early fans waiting to see Toad the Wet Sprocket in their original glory. In the years since their prominence in the ’90s, the enduring foursome have continued to periodically travel and pack venues to maximum capacity, and tonight is no exception.
The sold-out crowd was first greeted by the impressionable talents of Megan Slankard, joined on stage by Adam Nash on slide/rhythm guitar and percussion. The San Francisco duo brightened early concert-goers with friendly and inviting banter and an acoustic guitar style that combined the flair of modern Nashville with radio-friendly folk rock. Her powerful voice blended country soul with distinct clarity that gave each song a certain strength and personal touch.
In a touching moment, Megan and Adam paid special tribute to Aretha Franklin and celebrated her legacy by performing an intimate rendition of I Say a Little Prayer. The Toad fans in the audience really appreciated her expressive and energetic style, and were brought to their feet several times during her set to praise her outstanding gifts. Megan’s performance captured the attention of the crowd and provided the necessary shot of energy in preparation for the coming of Toad.
After a moving audio tribute to The Queen of Soul on an empty stage, Toad the Wet Sprocket stepped out to bring the same love to the capacity crowd. Joining lead vocalist Glen Philips at the front stage mics was Todd Nichols on guitar and Dean Dinning on bass. Atop the back risers was long-standing support from Jonathan Kingham on keyboards, mandolin, and lap steel guitar (you may remember him from our coverage of Glen’s solo show last year at Cleveland’s Music Box) and a talented stand-in drummer Josh Daubin, who looks like a more handsome, better-coiffed Bo Burnham.
Glen — with his trademark bare feet — remarked that he and the band were glad to be back in Kent again. Even though it’s been about seven years since the last time the full band was in town, Glen mentioned he’d usually visit during his solo tours in the winter, with the cold snow and no one walking around. But now, in the summer, “it’s a different place, it’s green, there are people. You tricked me!”
Toad started their set with This Moment from their latest release, New Constellation, a great example of the modern approach to their classic style, with signature harmonizing and an upbeat and catchy chorus. From there, they rolled into a trio of songs through their decorated ’90s catalog: endearing Crowing from Dulcinea; Whatever I Fear, the energetic opener from Coil; and then a crowd-rising sing along of their breakout hit from Fear, All I Want. They even featured a duo of their more memorable songs from In Light Syrup: Good Intentions, the irresistible tale of poor choices and bad experiences, and the uplifting and heartfelt Brother. Before long, the entire crowd finally got out of their seats and started rocking out on their feet.
The bulk of their set list covered their current sound from the New Constellation and Architect of the Ruin releases, including Architect of the Ruin, Golden Age, Enough, and their ode to the west coast, California Wasted. They still capture the chemistry that makes their songs connect so well with their fans. Their sound keeps the core elements of inspired and emotional songwriting, infectious pop phrasing, and harmonic depth, but now with a modern polish and process.
They also offered a large selection from their standout albums from the ’90s, Fear and Dulcinea. Within the first few notes of each song, the individual reaction from the die-hards in the crowd was incredible to behold. It remains their strongest musical work and is home to many fan favorites, like Windmills, Fly From Heaven, and Nightingale Song. They closed out the night with the big riff energy of Fall Down, and rewarded the cheering crowd for an encore with two of their biggest hits, Something’s Always Wrong and Walk on the Ocean.
But the crowd wasn’t made up completely of die-hard fans; there were some newcomers as well. Before the show began, a gentleman and his wife took their seats next to us and asked if we knew “whether the bands tonight are any good.” He admitted he’d never heard of either act, but I assured him he’d most certainly heard several Toad songs over the years. So what brought them to the show? Well, the answer will rekindle your faith in the goodness of humanity. Earlier that day, the gentleman inadvertently met Glen at a pizza shop. When Glen realized he’d forgotten his wallet, the gentleman graciously paid for him, and Glen gave him two tickets to the show in return.
Since Toad’s reunion, they have achieved a renewed success that few could have predicted. After reclaiming songs from their early catalog with All You Want in 2011, and the vinyl reissues of Fear and Dulcinea, they released New Constellation independently as a crowdfunded project on their own label. Toad the Wet Sprocket is poised to continue bringing their stories to the world long into the foreseeable future, and we can only hope they will choose to do so.
THE HEMPSTEADYS Séance! Séance!
At first, I wasn’t sold on Séance! Séance!. I don’t know why, but the record didn’t click with me when I listened to it. I had never heard of The Hempsteadys and probably wouldn’t have if one of the band members, saxophonist Cody Freedom, hadn’t reached out to me after reading my Boss Riotreview. That’s not a slight against the band; that’s just the reality of living in the middle of Kansas. It’s challenging to stay current with new music when the radio only picks up country music, and the nearest decent concert venue is an hour and a half away.
I ended up coming back to the record a few days later because I felt like I needed to give it another chance. It was after the second listen that I realized that Séance! Séance! was a good record. It took a third spin to realize that it was an excellent record.
“Still Life With Woodpecker” is the first single from Séance! Séance!, kicking things off with a frenetic opening drum beat that sets the tone for the rest of the record. “When Dead Are Undead,” one of two instrumentals on the record, features Vinny Noble (The Pilfers, Suicide Machines, Bim Skala Bim) absolutely killing it on trombone. The other instrumental, “Temple of Boom,” has a two-tone sound that will make you swear that you heard that song on an older Specials record. A later track, “The Well,” sounds like what would happen if you tossed Rancid and Bruce Springsteen’s The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle into a blender and hit puree.
The comparison to Rancid doesn’t stop there. The gravelly dragging vocal style expressed on the record will immediately call apt comparisons to Tim Armstrong. That might have been my barrier to liking this record at first, as I am not the biggest fan of Armstrong’s vocals. Musically I loved what I heard, as the band makes use of multiple genres across the record and giving each song its own identity. The sounds are wonderfully mixed, and none of the instrumentation is buried, which is a problem I have with some ska records. The horns are front and center on Séance! Séance!, but not at the expense of the rest of the band.
Séance! Séance! should be an automatic addition to your ska collection. Not only do I look forward to hearing what The Hempsteadys put out next, I look forward to discovering their back catalog as well because right now I can’t get enough of this band. The Hempsteadys will be touring Connecticut throughout the fall. You can get Séance! Séance! and their other works at thehempsteadys.com
I first discovered Boss Riot when I purchased Jump Up Records’ compilation collaboration with Ska Brewing Co., Drink the Ska. The song was “Hearts and Hands,” and I was hooked. Sadly, I had to wait a few months until I could listen to the band’s first full-length record, but it was well worth the wait. The soul/ska sound promised in “Hearts and Hands” was fully delivered on Lace Up Straight.
This six-piece outfit formed in Dallas, Texas in 2015, and is comprised of Vicki Tovar on vocals and melodica, Jake Olsen on lead guitar and vocals, Ryan Reeves on rhythm guitar, Chris Casey on organ, Mike Burke on bass, and Rob Tovar on drums and percussion.
The lead track on Lace Up Straight, “Bad Man,” starts the album off with a thumping beat that’s reminiscent of Sam and Dave mixed with The Selecter. “Chisholm Trail,” a wonderfully inviting instrumental that blends ska with a little bit of the ’60s surf sound, reminded me in particular of the interstitial music played during episodes of Kids In The Hall.
(Because when I think ska, I think Canadian sketch comedy)
“Little Things” projects a nice Bossa Nova vibe, while the previously mentioned “Hearts and Hands” has a great old-school 2 Tone sound.
It’s difficult to talk about Boss Riot without singling out the delightfully soulful, swaggering vocals of Vicki Tovar. When mentioning female ska singers, it’s easy to make comparisons to Monique Powell of Save Ferris, Elyse Rogers and Karina Deniké, or even Gwen Stefani, though I would say that Tovar’s fantastic vocals are more in the vein of Amy Winehouse or Lisa White of the Radiation Kings.
You can stream the album and buy a digital copy at the band’s website. You can also pick up a physical copy from Jump Up Records.
Boss Riot is currently touring the west coast, with shows in CA, NV, TX and AZ.
OGIKUBO STATION We Can Pretend Like
2018 Asian Man Records
While I can’t say I’ve heard every release from Asian Man Records, I like to think I’ve heard everything from Asian Man Records’ Mike Park. Park is not only the founder and driving force behind AMR, he also plays on some of the label’s acts: The Chinkees, Skankin’ Pickle, and The Bruce Lee Band. So imagine my surprise when I found out I missed the EP last year of his collaboration with Maura Weaver of Mixtapes, Ogikubo Station.
The self-titled EP, featuring 6 songs from Park and Weaver, came to be because they thought “our voices sound really good together.” This August will see the release of their first full-length as Ogikubo Station with We Can Pretend Like.The album surprised me, in part because I was expecting something ska-like along the same lines of Park’s previous bands (which this album sounds nothing like), but also because I wasn’t anticipating loving this album.
We Can Pretend Likeoffers a solid 11 tracks that split time between folky/acoustic and indie rock. Park and Weaver make for a wonderful duo, and their voices really complement each other. “Take a Piece of All That’s Good,” the first single, showcases how well the two harmonize with each other.
Weaver’s vocals in particular manage to simultaneously invoke feelings of melancholy and hopefulness in both “Take a Piece” and “The Radio Plays.” I found myself repeatedly relistening to “Weak Souls Walk Around Here,” which invokes sounds of old Hoodoo Gurus and R.E.M.
We Can Pretend Like drops August 24th on asianmanrecords.com. You can also listen to the Ogikubo Station’s 6 song EP, the self-titled Ogikubo Station, here in preparation.