Friday, January 5, 2018

The Duff Guide to Ska Year in Ska Reviews 2017, Part 4

Unrelated image of releases and posters from NYC area ska bands.
(All reviews by Steve Shafer)

Destroy Babylon Shapeshifters (CD/digital, MusicADD, 2017): A concept album of sorts, Destroy Babylon's extraordinary Shapeshifters is a collection of angry and defiant post-punk, rock, and reggae protest songs aimed at the heart of Trumpism. Beginning with the question of "how much do you pay for protection" (from the police and criminals roaming the streets), the songs traverse a systemically racist, violent, authoritarian-leaning, war-crazy, unfettered capitalist dog-eat-dog American landscape, ending with the singer's demise at the "business end of a knife." In the midst of this, there are pleas for tolerance ("Judgement": "Hey! Leave your judgement unspoken/Shouldn't matter to you if we're living atypical lives/No, we're not gonna hurt nobody/We need no alibi"), a rumination on mortality ("Teeth Dreams": "Got a handful of my teeth staring at me, oh well/Got a long list of things that I can’t be, oh well/Got a lifetime full of enemies/I still curse missed opportunities/with this infinitely finite me, oh well"), and a song about being lulled into apathy, despite one's best intentions otherwise ("Drift": I wanted everything to change/While I stay the same/But I just drifted away")--even a classical instrumental with flute and strings called "Dance of the Demagogues"! It's one of the most unique, compelling, and disturbing records I've encountered this past year (and keep coming back to). Give it a listen!

Danny Rebel and the KGB Lovehaus (digital, Stomp Records, 2017): I'm kicking myself for missing this sleeper of a release earlier this year! Danny Rebel and the KGB's sound is a brilliant and fully-realized blend of rocksteady, roots/dubby reggae, pop, and soul--and their super-catchy songwriting and performances on Lovehaus are phenomenally top-notch. I can't stop listening to tracks like the Heptones-y "Take Me Away"; "Steady Hands" (the life of a gunslinger has to be a lonely one), a punky reggae cut that could have been on Sandinista; "Copper Mountain," which I think is about the long-dead, bad-ass pioneering inhabitants of a ghost town ("I was into anarchy before the war/I used wonder what we're fighting for/Lost my leg to an iron gun/and I never walked back to Copper Mountain") who want to know if we're satisfied with our modern lives; "When the Lights Go Out," a hauntingly beautiful lament (with ice rink organ!) for our collective--and self-inflicted--end-times ("Burn all the forests/And drain the sea/I get my advice/From a cash machine/Build bombs for civilians/Make a million, you'll see/Will we make it out alive?/And if we do/Is the sun going to shine?"); and "1601," a magnificent track that conveys the "Purple Rain"-like emotions unleashed of the end of a relationship. Make sure to check this one out! (Hey, Stomp Records--this deserves a physical release!)

Version City Rockers Fortitude (CD/digital download, Stubborn Records, 2017): As its title might suggest, there's an Old Testament, God-of-wrath vibe permeating this record. Despite significant personal and professional setbacks over the past decade--betrayal, flood, destruction, illness, and several deaths of friends and family--King Django's Job-like grit and determination to persevere (and triumph) in the face of repeated adversity are embodied in this amazing album. Based on the single--but remarkably durable--"Fortitude" riddim Django created back in 2002, this album collects sixteen versions by various dancehall and reggae greats (who contribute their own melodies and lyrics/toasts of positivity); two-thirds of these cuts were issued on 45s via the Freedom Sounds/Jamaican Version City label in 2007-2008, while the remainder are new and previously unreleased. I'm partial to takes by Johnny Osbourne ("Let There Be Love"), Prince Alla ("We No Want No Bomb"), Pompidou ("Selassie I Rule"), ex-Toaster Jack Ruby, Jr. ("Action Time"), Little John ("I Feel Good"), P-Dub ("Solitude"), Kapaichie ("One for All"), Carlton Livingston ("Vex"), and Drew Daniels ("Talk About Love")--and completely relate to King Django's mid-life perspective "The More I Learn" ("... it seem the less I want to say/Things I knew just yesterday/I'm not so sure today/I used to think in black and white/But now it's shades of gray/With open eyes and mind/For all that I survey..."). Each track is beautiful in itself, but taken as a whole, Fortitude is a powerful and profound body of music and message. Use as needed.

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Read The Duff Guide to Ska Year in Ska Reviews 2017, Part 1.

Read The Duff Guide to Ska Year in Ska Reviews 2017, Part 2.

Read The Duff Guide to Ska Year in Ska Reviews 2017, Part 3!

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