By Various Artists
Another credit-crunch busting compilation from DIY, not-for-profit punk label TNS Records. Following on from the success of their Vol. 1 compilation 'Music By People Who Drink Cider In The Gutter,' TNS have gone even bigger, with the double CD, thirty-seven track Vol.2 'Mainstream Music Is Shit.'
While the main purpose of this compilation is to introduce predominantly Manchester-based bands to a wider audience, there a few familiar faces. First up, are TNS regulars Revenge of The Psychotronic Man, and the two-hundred-miles-an-hour 'Blackpool ROCK,' while Sounds Of Swami match them racing-riff for racing-riff, with the abrasive rush of 'Bandwagon Hi-Jack.' The Shadowcops keep those all-important speed and aggression levels sky-high, while packing in the rock and roll riffs. 'The Sleeper Awakes' marks them out as a band who take the oldschool punk blueprint and develop it into something far more rock-orientated.
But, it isn't all about no frills, punk rock nastiness. This compilation also features a clutch of ska bands TNS fans will recognise. These include the horn-studded rattle of Harijan's 'Portland Street' and John Player Specials' 'The Isolator,' which replaces the 'punk' element with a funky Caribbean groove, in a rare moment of laidback cool. At the opposite end of the scale, is the brass instrument-strewn carnival of Stand Out Riot's 'Spacesuit,' a song that, thankfully, falls just short of being irritatingly chirpy; and the rousing ska-punk call to arms that is The Fractions' 'Down And Out.' While 'Down And Out' could do with more guitar-heavy sections and battle-horn trumpets, and less clattery, ska-by-numbers interludes, the song's high points are very high indeed, making this an album highlight.
So after seven bands who've enjoyed dedicated TNS releases before, we move onto the lesser-known acts.
'Mainstream Music Is Shit' is conveniently split into two halves. The first CD focuses on punk rock, with shades of hardcore, deathcore and punk 'n roll; whereas the second CD focuses on ska-punk. The second CD is the strongest, largely due to the variety and the fun many contributors seem to be having playing around with the genre.
To a certain extent, anything a band can do to make themselves stand out, in the context of a compilation, is a good thing, and second CD highlight, The Hostiles' 'Bad Day For Shorts' does just that. Their piping brass instruments, off-kilter Madness rhythms and cartoonish vocals, are mixed up with thunder storm sound effects. There's a mid-song lag where The Hostiles draw a line under their skanking first half and build into a Bring Me The Horizon-style breakdown, but when those gang vocals and meaty riffs kick in, it's definitely worth the wait.
The other album high points all have something that distinguishes them from the crowd. 'Seat Up High' by Jimmy the Squirrel, and 'Empty Boxes' by Los Salvadores, both have a twangy, tinny, almost Oriental-sounding edge, and the impassioned holler of Just Panic's 'Killer Fairytales' is a surprisingly dewy take on the genre. But, that doesn't mean 'Killer Fairytales' compromises on brutality and speed, as a furious drum line leads this sparkly-edged cyclone of sound in a headlong charge. It's furious, emotionally-charged ska, with a lead singer who either desperately believes every word he's bellowing, or is a damn fine actor.
But, all the aforementioned eclecticism pales in comparison to Sense Of Urgency's 'Lowbrow.' A blast of discordant hardcore-punk, laced with deathcore vocals and euphoric gang vocals, shot through with merrily tootling horns; it's an acquired taste. But, it's an interesting exercise in pushing the ska blueprint to extremes, and by keeping the pedal firmly to the metal, Sense Of Urgency don't outstay their welcome.
Cartoon Violence and Bootscraper stand out on this CD, because of their distinctively-voiced frontmen. Cartoon Violence frontman Chuzz's voice is noticeably deeper than most ska vocalists, although the rumbling piano notes, and their runaway-carnival chorus also help to give their 'Kite' its own identity. Meanwhile, Bootscraper frontman Tim has the kind of soulful voice that makes you think of dark, trendy jazz clubs, and the woozy accordion strains, jangly beats and twangy mandolin complete the picture, making this a folky, jazzy piece of musical exotica.
But, unusual vocals aren't always a positive thing, as The Medicine Bow prove with 'This Side Of Town (Train Song).' Vague, drooly vocals means they lack a strong vocal presence. It's a shame, as its quirky combination of racing riffs and yelpy harmonica is musically intriguing; it's just in the vocals department that The Medicine Bow struggle to make an impression.
The second CD may be firmly rooted in ska, but A War Against Sound and Kickback UK manage to squeeze in elements of metal and good old fashioned mosh. The former's 'The Premature Chokehold' has a doomy, bass-heavy chorus that's guaranteed to please those with a metal disposition, even if the rest of the song doesn't quite hang together right. Kickback UK's 'Reality Check,' mixes chirpy brass instruments with mosh-friendly rhythms, and will have you torn between skanking like a merry idiot, and banging your head.
One of the criticisms often levelled at ska, is that it has a tendency to be irritatingly cheerful. If buoyant trumpets and giddy keyboard flourishes put your teeth on edge, then it's probably best to restrict your second CD experience to The Hijacks and The Autonomad's contributions. The latter's 'Supermarket Sweep' has a more bass-orientated groove, with only subtle touches of blunted brass; whereas 'Greed And Fear's combination of abrasive riffs and gang backing vocals, puts the 'punk' into ska-punk. 'Supermarket Sweep' and 'Greed And Fear' are essentially ska songs, for those who aren't major fans of ska.
Faintest Idea's 'Why Don't Rich Kids Go To War?' and Rasta4Eyes' 'Oscar And Arthur' are two songs that are probably better experienced live. The former's chorus is crammed with gotta-sing-along-with "whoa!" and "oh!" backing vocals, while the oompa-oompa beats and flamboyant keyboard flourishes, will no doubt incite mass skank-alongs when this is played live. Meanwhile, 'Oscar And Arthur' has a one-two, one-two beat that's slightly repetitive and one-dimensional on record, but will undoubtedly get a live audience moving.
For anyone with a soft spot for ska, this CD is an encouraging snapshot of the unsigned, Northern ska scene, offering insanely upbeat ska, downbeat ska, folk ska, soul-infused ska, ska-for-those-who-don't-really-like-ska, and ska by several intriguing vocalists. This eighteen track voyage around the ska world, will have fans of the genre excited about what's going on at the local level - which can only be a good thing.
Meanwhile, the first CD is all about rough-and-ready punk rock, played at triple speed, with gang vocals and shout-along choruses aplenty. Dangerfield's 'Gimme Gimme Rock 'n Roll' is a perfect example: an uncomplicated roar with racing riffs to rival punk-rock speed-kings Revenge Of The Psychotronic Man. 'Short, sharp and to the point' is also the apparent mantra of The Nova Fives and Acid Drop, who contribute 'Love Letters' and 'Polly Piper,' respectively. 'Love Letters' is a bristling, cider-splattered bellow about drinking 'til you're blind, and other such suitably punk activities; while 'Polly Piper' is all super-charged riffing and the sound of someone beating the hell out of their drum kit.
The Emos follow in a very similar vein, although their 'Jason Bourne Ready' clearly has one eye firmly on the live arena, with a call-and-response chorus of "are you ready? - Jason Bourne Ready?!" that was made for crowd interaction. 2 Sick Monkey's confrontational effort, 'Why?' does occasionally smack of a juvenile tantrum but, again, this is a song that's probably meant to be experienced live. It's easy to imagine the bellowed chorus giving the audience a severe vocal-chord workout. It may be slightly obvious in terms of lyrics, but it's fast, furious, doesn't outstay its welcome, and is probably good fun to shout along to down your local punk venue.
Although the first CD lacks the eclecticism of the second CD, there is some variety to be had, with a triple-whammy of punk 'n roll in the form of The Hyperjax's 'Talkin' New York,' The Great St. Louis' 'Safe' and a contribution from The Kirkz. The Hyperjax's contribution is the strongest, offering up a blast of snappy, drum-led, rock-infused punk, with twitching backing/main/gang vocals that ensure the track shakes with barely-contained energy. 'Safe,' has a more melodic slant, with smoother riffing, pub-rock vocals and lashings of euphoric "whoa-oh-oh!" backing vocals making for an accessible, but never boring, punk 'n roll experience.
The Kirkz featured on TNS' 'Music By People Who Drink Cider In The Gutter' compilation, and they're back for more, with the punk 'n roll of 'Brain Dead.' This song has a nasty habit of taking it down a notch and blasting out simple, crunching riffs. 'Brain Dead' is actually at its best when it's at full pelt, laying meaty riffs over a backdrop of chuggy guitars. The Kirkz would be advised to keep the pedal firmly to the metal in the future.
D'Corner Bois' have a moodier sound, with heavy bass lines that slowly unfurl through their mid-paced punk. However, it's not until Fair Do's that this compilation gets seriously dark, with the snappy metalcore of 'When It All Goes Wrong.' It's this double album's heaviest moment, with the occasional riff that could have been lifted straight off a Bullet For My Valentine record. Fair Do's do themselves a disservice though, by clinging to the galloping drumbeats and shouty, snotty vocals, which may be staples of the punk genre, but sit uncomfortably next to metalcore riffing.
Also on the decidedly darker side of things, is Just Add Monster's effort, the doomy, bass-heavy 'Discontent.' The brittle, angular riffs perfectly mirror frontman Mr T's shrapnel vocals, and it's consequently sure to please fans of The Ghost Of A Thousand and Gallows.
At the opposite end of the scale, is 'Mainstream Music Is Shit's most accessible moment, the pop-infused 'Heads Up' by The Dead Reckoning. Not only does their frontman turn out melodic vocal lines, but he has a tendency to break into hooky cries of "whoa-oh-oh!" The Dead Reckoning play up these accessible vocals, with melodic guitar lines, toe-tapping drums and brassy, ska-punk flourishes, making this a welcome bit of light relief. Also on the lighter side of things, is The Terrors' 'Disasters Only Get Worse.' Its brisk punk and bucking guitar rhythms, comes wrapped in jangly drumbeats, and feels incredibly catchy after so much aural nastiness.
Two more songs that probably need to be experienced live, are The Dangerous Aces' hit-and-miss effort 'Lock In' and SmackRats' brilliantly (if a little un-P.C) entitled 'Dead Men Don't Act Like Cunts.' The former is decidedly uninspiring on record, where you'll have trouble deciphering what the frontman's yammering on about. However, when the chorus kicks in, the furious chant of "'av a lock in, 'av a lock in, 'av a lock in" with gang backing vocals all howling their agreement, will have you wishing you were watching The Dangerous Aces live, so you could shout along with them. 'Dead Men Don't Act Like Cunts's expletive-riddled chorus has even more shout-along appeal, with skank-friendly verses of twitchy, scratchy guitars and lashings of fun "whoa-oh-oh!" gang backing vocals to boot. It's a thoroughly enjoyable shout along, and even better its appeal isn't solely restricted to the live arena.
And, finally, there's the one song that could have gone terrible wrong. Despite a tragically synth-studded intro, Rising Strike's 'Force Of Habit, Habit Of Force' isn't some weird, electro-pop oldschool-punk mash-up, but good old fashioned punk rock that manages to keep proceedings suitably abrasive, even when it's caught up in its more 'experimental' moments.
While the second disc has more range and pushes the boundaries of its chosen genre, the first CD is still an encouraging snapshot of the no-frills, grassroots punk-rock scene. Taking classic, cider-swilling bursts of aggression as its starting point, it then blends in elements of hardcore, metalcore and mosh, making for a sound that, although not incredibly varied, is far from stagnant.
With thirty-seven tracks of punk and ska to chose from, you're bound to find a few things you like on this mammoth double-disc. A more comprehensive round up of the Northern ska and punk scene, would be pretty much impossible to find.
Alternative / Punk / Rock