Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Skank Agents - Something for Everyone (2008)

To quote a friend, The Skank Agents are "super fucking legit." An underground San Diego Ska band that started way back in 2004 and solidified a line-up by '06, you're more likely to see band members making laps in a circle pit than in the recording studio. They trade in the frantic punk energy of other bands for a healthy dose of melody and a surprisingly mature sound. "Canon in D" and "Flight of the Bumblebee" references remind the listener that this is no 3-chord act. Like a lot of bands in the genre, this album doesn't quite capture the energy, fun atmosphere and skankability that characterize a live performance, but Something for Everyone definitely deserves a listen.

Though the engineering on this album doesn't really showcase it, this blaring horn section is loud, upfront and surprisingly complex. The frontman/lead vocals/trumpet has some chops and strikes a balance between passionate vocals and crisp instrumentation. He's complimented by the dark and biting sounds of bari and tenor saxes for a very full bodied sound. Add in a solid guitars, versatile bass and steady drums and you get a band that really locks in and hits a groove. Lyrically they are generally pretty solid but can be transparent at times. Even the lyrically simpler tracks like"Party Song" and "Smash Dance" (does this remind anyone else of Planet Smashers' "The Manta Ray"?) have a certain charm and catchyness though.

My only concern with this album is the "chill songs." I'm all for expanding the genre with creative and musically sound songwriting, but I like my ska fast. Sure many will argue that occasionally slower tempos and longer songs create a more mature sound and increase the general listenability of the album, and they're probably right. But I just personally prefer higher energy songs. Still, when they want to The Skank Agents can turn up the tempos and trash with the best of them; songs like "Peace" and "Friends" showcase their punk influences and biting attack.

The Skank Agents are an archetypal "local band" and are a bunch or really cool guys. They play shows loud and fast, have a ton of energy and stage presence, and clearly love what they do. At the end of the day, Something for Everyone doesn't quite capture that feeling, but that's a problem with the genre in general and not the band. It's a really solid album with some stand-out tracks that definitely deserves repeated listens. It may not be perfect, but these guys are down in the trenches fighting to keep ska alive for 2009, and they're doing a kick-ass job. And what do you really expect from guys that still read off of sheet-music at shows?

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