By Various Artists
The eighth release from punk record label TNS, is a three way split EP featuring a trio of bands who each have their own take on ska-punk - and none of them sound like Reel Big Fish.
First up, is Stoke-based six piece Sense Of Urgency.
'Glory Days' takes the tootling horns, euphoric "whoooooa-oh" backing vocals and twitchy chords of ska, and mixes it up with the gnashing vocals of hardcore. While a ska-hardcore hybrid may sound like a musical nightmare, 'Glory Days' is head rush ska-punk sugar with a lingering bittersweet bite. The blend of hardcore snarling and brisk and breezy ska-punk, is actually far more fast and furious, than either genre on their own. And, when it comes to this sort of DIY punk, faster is always better.
If Sense Of Urgency's second contribution, 'Lowbrow' sounds familiar, it's because it featured on the TNS compilation 'Mainstream Music Is Shit.' While TNS regulars would have undoubtedly preferred to hear a new Sense Of Urgency song, 'Lowbrow' is another glorious melee of crashing, snarling hardcore shot through with flashes of cheery brass. While nit-pickers may point out that the rather run-of-the-mill skank groove at the end is an ill fit for the rest of 'Lowbrow,' as a whole it's still a unique and refreshing track that's balanced dizzyingly between blind rage and life-affirming exuberance. Strange, but brilliant.
After blowing the listener away with their first two songs, Sense Of Urgency let things slip a little with 'The Night We Exploded.' Stripping away 90% of their usual crash and clatter, leaves only a rag-tag collection of pulsing bass, a bit of chord-mangling and some short, sharp bleats from the brass section. It's executed with plenty of speed, but ultimately Sense Of Urgency sound more chaotic, when they're making less of a racket.
Sense Of Urgency all but eschew their ska influences for the hardcore-punk of 'Silent Teeth,' which is laced with sinister undertones. There are some brass notes, but Sense Of Urgency blunt their bright points with waves of bass-soaked riffs, and the usual broken-glass gnashing gains a deeper, more menacing boom. Even the "oooooh, whoa-ooooooh" backing vocals take it down a few notches, so instead of euphoric they sound dispirited and, like the rest of this song, subtly unnerving.
'Silent Teeth' is an almost straight-up hardcore-punk song, with a simmering darkness that'll make your flesh crawl, while 'Lowbrow' and 'Glory Days' will have you sold on the ska/hardcore crossover. It may sound like an unlikely partnership, but Sense Of Urgency will get your blood boiling, whilst lifting your spirits with their boisterous brass sections. It shouldn't work half as well as it does.
Next, is Manchester-based Stand Out Riot. By placing their folk-tinged social commentaries directly after the ska/hardcore mash-up of Sense Of Urgency, TNS Records draw attention to their enviable ability to find acts who are shaking up their chosen genres. Stand Out Riot make an impression from the get-go, with the country-infused romp of 'This Is Not A Movement.' Jam packed with folky female backing vocals, and jazzed up with lashings of the quick-footed guitar-scratching characteristic of ska, it's a long, complex song of multiple segments, but the speed and enthusiasm with which it's executed, makes this a hoot to listen to. A must hear for any ska fans, who have had their fill of Reel Big Fish sound-alikes.
And Stand Out Riot prove they aren't a one-trick-pony, with the bombastic, wonderfully jazzy shimmy of 'Black Widow.' Frontman Francis Hunt courts danger by speaking the lyrics, but his rabid, two-hundred-miles-an-hour delivery, means he sounds manically passionate, rather than cheesy. 'Black Widow' is an incisive, socially-aware lament, wrapped up in a joyous, ska-punk bounce and jazzy drum rolls that put other po-faced 'protest songs' to shame.
On its own, 'Law And Hors'Doeuvres' would be a strong song, but it's eclipsed by the other Stand Out Riot contributions. Bursts of jaunty carnival refrains and a thunderous instrumental ending provide a few stand out moments. However, the rest of the song ploughs a clattering musical furrow with smatterings of jabbered vocals, which is rather too close to the verses of 'Black Widow' - just without that one killer hook.
Despite being undone by their own strong beginnings, bands like Stand Out Riot are crucial in a genre where all too often every band prescribes to the same chirpy, poppy formula.
The final band in this three way split is Blackburn-based A War Against Sound. During the course of their three contributions, the ska element is restricted to a backdrop of shunting chords that's designed to get those dancing feet twitching. A War Against Sound are effectively a ska band, for those who find horns and trombones thoroughly irritating. Their first song, 'To Fraud A Cause' lays a galloping drum line over those aforementioned skanking chords, before briefly dipping its toes into more punk waters, with shambolic, guitar-heavy sections and sputtering drums. 'To Fraud A Cause' is ska, presented with a rough-and-ready punk-rock edge. Similarly, second track 'For Nothing And No-One' is a solid, brass-free ska track with shades of hardcore in the occasional grinding guitar line and fit of blastbeat drumming. These tougher touches give both songs their own distinct character even if, inevitability, they feel a little 'run of the mill' next to the previous two bands.
But, A War Against Sound have saved the best until last, with EP-closer 'Pull The Twos Out Of Your Pocket And Say "Do You Mean These." Those jolting chords are revved into a finger-shredding spasm, and the hardcore leanings are emphasised with a greater predominance of blastbeat drumming and snarling vocals. A definite step ahead of 'To Fraud A Cause' and 'For Nothing And No-One.'
This three way split is worth purchasing for Stand Out Riot's 'Black Widow' and 'This Is Not A Movement' alone. These two songs will make you rethink what it's possible to achieve with the all-too-often restrictive ska blueprint. Sense Of Urgency take the seemingly disparate genres of hardcore and ska, and blend into what feels like an obvious genre-crossover. A War Against Sound serve up three solid ska songs, but it's their bad luck to end up on a CD with two bands who are pushing the boundaries of ska-punk in a big way.
This EP is another TNS release that flaunts the Manchester-based label's eye for the most innovative unsigned punk bands the Northern scene has to offer. Pretty much essential listening for fans of the DIY punk scene.