Thursday, September 3, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Bullet Points: King Kong 4, and The Red Stripes!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)
  • After raving about their series of digital singles and EPs released over the past several years, I'm thrilled that King Kong 4--which features members of Canadian ska acts King Apparatus, Prince Perry, and Lo and the Magnetics, led by KA's Mitch Girio--have released Punch It! (Black or blue vinyl LP, Jump Up Records, 2020), a compilation that assembles all of these tracks on one knock-out slab of vinyl. If you've missed out on this band previously, King Kong 4's sound is 2 Tone plus power-pop, the dark ska tracks on More Specials meets the bite of This Year's Model, with songs that breathe life into stories about personal, everyday dramas (love, mostly), and some about matters that have more ominous implications for everyone. The lead-off (and best) track here is "Profile Of A New Elite," which is about the awesome power parents have to raise either good and decent human beings or menaces to society, while "Speaking for the Skeptics" (which features a new music video) is concerned with unrequited love with a telephone psychic (both are from the 2017 single More Than Just a Plateful, which I reviewed here). The spaghetti Western ska instrumentals "Going A Bit Mad in Our Own Way" and "To Lose Before You Start" were inspired by Nevil Shute's post-World War III/doomsday novel On the Beach, where the last bits of humanity in Melbourne, Australia wait for the the nuclear fallout to reach and kill them (these are from their 2017 EP There's Not Much That You or I Can Do About It, which I reviewed here). "Breaking My Heart Again" is about loving someone who's unavailable from a distance, and "Annabelle" is coming undone by mind-altering drugs and/or mental illness (both are from KK4's 2017 single You Lie Awake, which I reviewed here). "It's Quitting Time" celebrates the daily five o'clock whistle, "Taking Back the Ring" is about repeatedly forgiving a repeat cheater, the end of the night "Drink In Your Head" is about assessing what transpired while you were under the influence, and "Grenadine" is mean to you, but you love her anyway (all are from their 2018 EP Songs for Olly, which I reviewed here). And, even though I missed writing them up, "Lessons Learned" ("You promised to be my honey/Before you took all my money/Lesson learned and know I know/It's all for naught") and "All Those Wasted Days," which urges a friend to get out of the pleasant and easy, but soul-killing suburbs to fulfilling the longing for "someone or something, someplace else," are equally as excellent as everything else here (and are from the 2017 single If Those Rays Don't Kill You First). Can an album of tracks from several yesteryears be a contender for one of the albums of this year? I certainly think so.
    The cover features a collage of photographs of each band member performing.
  • Hong Kong's Red Stripes have released a terrific, free (or pay-as-you-wish) album titled The Live Sessions (Digital, Mod Sound Records, 2020), which features a healthy mix of tracks from the band's two albums proper, In the Ska East and Made in Hong Kong (read my reviews of them here and here). These recordings, captured live in the studio in front of an invited audience, are both warm and bright, and the band's performances are spot-on and spirited--proof positive that The Red Stripes have the goods in performance. While the song arrangements don't deviate much from their album versions, it is good to hear some of your favorite tracks out in the wild, so to speak (particularly "Made in Hong Kong," "Don't Build Twice," "Rude Rude Rude," "Innocent," and "Big Boss Man"). And it sure sounds like these were fun nights to be in the crowd.

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