Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Skanx - S/T E.P.

In today's scene, a lot of bands focus on crossover; the art of cramming multiple genres together. Some manage to Frankenstein these component parts together into a cohesive entity, but most seem content to fling genres at a wall and stick together whatever mess remains with bits of sellotape and used chewing gum. It's getting more difficult to find bands happy to walk an already-trodden path, focused not on gluing on unnecessary extra bits to a basic concept, but honing it, then battering it half to death in the live arena, all in the name of having fun. An example of such a band would be the Calico Street Riots: so what if most of their recorded output sounds like an unreleased Flogging Molly album? When it's delivered with such energy, passion and fun, its difficult to work up the effort to give a fuck about such trivialities, not when you're too busy grinning like a cretin and dancing manically. That's the view The Skanx subscribe to, although instead of folk-punk, they play...actually, do I really need to say what music they play? The clue's in the name really, isn't it?

Yes, well done, ten points to Sherlock at the back; ska is the order of the day here, a genre that often suffers from being the meat in a clumsily put-together sandwich of other genres. But as already described, the Skanx skirt round innovation and instead sing religiously from their copy of the book 'Rules of Ska, Volume 1 (1981 Edition)'. Seriously, the sound being purveyed on this E.P. couldn't get more 1980s if it had lyrics slagging off Margaret Thatcher. So if you're one of those nit-pickers whom hates anything that isn't 'avant-garde' and 'progressive', then go and be a bitter old sack of bollocks somewhere else. But if you're the kind of person who's reading this review and listening to Bad Manners, The Specials and Madness on shuffle on the stereo, then welcome aboard the 10:30 train to Skaville. Toot toot!

Actually, that last paragraph is a little unfair, as it paints The Skanx as nothing more than a bunch of revisionist copycats plundering the ska history books with no original ideas of their own, which isn't strictly true. In the same way The Submission's update on 1970s punk rock sounds fresh and vital, The Skanx's take on 1980s ska is so wonderfully effervescent and full of joy de vivre that one can't help but enjoy it. They nab Captain Bastard and the Scallywags' crown of 'band with most members' by going one extra with nine, and all of them have their chance to shine across the five sampler tracks here. Like Jakal and The Skints (Christ, this is becoming a good review for name-dropping, isn't it?), they have multiple, male and female vocalists, in this case the hyperactive Wayne Jazzlin and zesty Lori May Spear. They bounce off each other nicely, trading vocal lines and styles, with Lori reminding me in particular of an early No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani, with the way her voice bounces around and flits undisciplined from delicate soul to powerful wails and yelps. They also have Tyrannosaurus Alan's horn hooks courtesy of the three-piece horn section, and some classic piano stylings from...actually, that's a good point, where the fuck did they come from?! Yeah, seems I was being facetious earlier when saying this was straight up ska - while they do stick to this for a foundation, other myriad influences do subtly work their way into the sound. Well, with so many instruments, it's sort of inevitable, right? Along with those already established, other instruments in play include a Wurlitzer piano/organ/stylophone triumvirate courtesy of Simon Beck and some additional bongo-based percussion stylings from trumpeteer Stuart McCrossan.

And yet, despite having a veritable orchestra of instrumentation, the songs they produce between the nine of them are well-crafted and polished. There's a danger with so many members that songs can meander as they try to cram everything in, but here everything effortlessly clicks into place, like a big pile of multi-coloured Lego bricks (or should that be Airfix parts, eh?). There really isn't a bad song on here, and it's the sort of E.P. that'll warrant many repeated listens. My personal highlight is the excellent 'Moneygrabber', the most energetic song on the disc, maintaining a high pace and an infectious melody all the way through, with Simon's bubbling organ riffs flitting through the mix. 'Czechmate' exhibits a strong funk flavour, so much so that there are parts where you can imagine Jake and Elwood from the Blues Brothers singing it with a trope of gospel backing singers. Lyrically there might not be much in the way of depth, with topics ranging from partying and drinking ('Party Party') and the morning after said partying and drinking (the imaginatively titled 'The Morning After'), so anyone expecting deep polemics on world economics and the meaning of life itself will be disappointed, but as I said earlier, that's not what The Skanx are about.

What they are about is having a tonne of fun, something many bands seem to think is below them now in the more pious quarters of the music scene. We need bands like The Skanx to remind us just how joyous and uplifting music can be; this is true feelgood music, designed solely for summer nights, cold beers, and grooving the night away. This is exactly what you'll be doing when you see them live over the next few months, but if they don't happen to be playing tonight, whack this on the headphones and let The Skanx brighten up the day - although don't blame them when you get funny looks for skanking on the bus.

Rating: 88%

Standout Tracks: 'Moneygrabber', 'Czechmate'.

Label: 208 Records

Release Date: November 2009

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