Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: Various Artists: MNSka Mixtape Volume 1

Minnesota isn't generally considered a hotbed of ska music by any means. Sure, we have one of the world’s foremost pop-punk scenes alongside Gainesville and Chicago, an illustrious history of hardcore, and one of the best crust communities this side of the West Coast, but there have been few acts to emerge from what is actually a fairly vibrant ska scene in the nation’s icebox. This compilation seeks to change that, or at the very least shed some light on what’s going on ska-wise in the Gopher state.

The compilation covers a spectrum of styles and takes on the traditional ska sound, ska-punk varieties, and those that fall elsewhere but still managed to find their way into the mix. Only about half the acts utilize a horn section on their contributions, though those without don’t necessarily sound lacking in any way. Hardcore Crayons and Moving to Pluto both eschew brass but work in incredibly catchy melodies in emo-targeted songs (“Not Another Emo Song” and “Emoshay,” respectively). Rocksteady Breakfast (whose members also play in the hilarious manic street punk act Ponx Attax) and the recently officially disbanded GYLBOTS (whose members also play in the Prizefighters heard here) fill their contributions with enough upstrokes to make up for any lack of horns, while Mikey Talented’s song “Classic Mix-Up” is an infectious, almost '90s sounding tune in the vein of Smashmouth, Sugar Ray or Barenaked Ladies with only a hint of ska rhythms.

Of the tracks that do feature brass, there are plenty of excellent compositions rife with fun hornlines and energetic rhythms. Small Kitchen Appliances get things going in fine fashion with “Pockets Full of Gold” while Sajak’s “Damn Me Damn You” is simple but effective. Secondhand Ska Kings’ “Carrie” jumps out of the speakers with Matt Bertrand’s hyper upstroke chords and a blast of classic soul horns while Aaron Porter and company lay down a relaxing reggae groove on the Prizefighters’ “There’ll Be a Day.”

In retrospect, what really is a hotbed of ska these days? The biggest names in the genre are from all different parts of the country. Don’t believe me? Look: Reel Big Fish (Orange County), Less Than Jake (Gainesville), Mustard Plug (Grand Rapids), Streetlight Manifesto (New Jersey), the Slackers (New York), Bosstones (duh). If any city can field a release of 20 talented ska bands, it should be celebrated, and that’s exactly what this compilation does.

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