Thursday, January 20, 2011

Duff Review: The Forthrights' Camp Birdman EP

Panic State Records
Four track 33 rpm 7" vinyl single
(includes free digital download)

Ask any fan of ska, rocksteady, or reggae who has had the good fortune to catch The Forthrights in action or was wise enough to pick up their sweet "Other People" debut single on Stubborn Records (read The Duff Guide to Ska review here) and they'll tell you that this band is the real freakin' deal. They have quickly established themselves as one of the top rocksteady acts on the scene--and their spectacular new Camp Birdman EP provides more than ample proof for those not in the know that all the buzz about The Forthrights is more than well-deserved.

On Camp Birdman, singer-songwriter-keyboardist Jack Wright has written a stellar batch of songs (performed along with ace bandmates Sammy Krajkowski on bass, Jimmy Doyle on guitar and vocals, Matt Burdi on drums, with Mihran Abrahamian on guitar, piano, and vocals) whose evocative sounds and lyrics conjure up film noir-ish scenes of blurry, way-past-midnights full of possibility (or heartache or dread); unresolved (and unresolvable) conflict; itches that can't be scratched; and souls striving for redemption.

All of the "action" in the moody, minor-key "Nocture" takes place on a bridge that seems to represent being mired in a state of limbo--permanent in between-ness--with the terrible awareness that all of one's efforts are futile: "Nocturne in black and gold/You never do what you're told/On the bridge late at night/You see the water, you see the light/It's too bad/Yes, it's too bad...School teacher driving home/from teaching kids that will never learn/On the bridge, what do I see?/Is it you? Or is it me?/'Cause it's too bad/It's too bad..."

In the spare but dreamily seductive (and gorgeous) rocksteady love song "You Can Love Me," Jack sings "In this world of sin/You still let me in/and I see that hope remains in your eyes/that we are too young for sorrow" (the last line there sung in falsetto). They can attempt to share something good and uncorrupted before the world and reality can quash their dreams (though there is an noncommittal air about it all: "You can love me if you want to/I will try to love you, too/it's the least that I could do").

On side two, "Stay Out Late" shifts gears into sprightly, defiant ska: "Say, it's the reason/I always want to leave you home/I don't know why you always have to be so rude/I just want you to try, it's not what you want"--but he has the upper hand in the relationship, as the song ends in an almost taunting repeating chorus of "I'm just what you want!"

The EP closes with the Heptones-ish "Like a Child." This entreaty-cum-prayer to a lover who might be wavering is heartbreakingly lush and beautiful: "I feel jealousy on me like a child/But what to expect when you put me out in the wild/Whisper to me where your loyalty lies/So I have peace when, when I die...We try to be good/We try good/We try to be good..."

Believe me when I tell you--and this ain't overheated hype--that The Forthrights' Camp Birdman EP definitely ranks as one of the top five ska/rocksteady releases of 2011.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

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A note to record collectors and anyone who still has an appreciation for tangible recorded music: this vinyl EP is nicely packaged in a full-color, illustrated sleeve, and comes in three versions of colored wax (black, white, and white with black haze). Only 500 copies were made in all, so pick one up while you can.

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The Forthrights' Camp Birdman EP can be streamed here.

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Here's the Camp Birdman EP video promo (which features part of the song "Nocturne"):

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