Thursday, December 31, 2009

Madness Tops "Best of 2009" Lists

Editor's note: I was pretty sick over the Christmas break and only now am beginning to feel somewhat like my old, healthy self. So, I'd like to offer my apologies for being absent for so long.

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Madness' extraordinary The Liberty of Norton Folgate was named one of the top albums of 2009 by both MOJO Magazine and All Music Guide. Of particular note, The Liberty of Norton Folgate was ranked #9 in MOJO's "The 50 Best Albums of 2009" article (in their January 2010 issue), which the editors declared was "possibly their finest" release ever. In addition, MOJO's editors highlighted "Dust Devil," one of TLNF's ska songs/singles, as the record's "standout track" (love that song, but "We Are London" is pretty incredible, too).

You might also be interested to know that in MOJO's ten best reggae reissues of 2009 category, Don Drummond's Memorial Album: Deluxe Edition (Trojan/Universal) was ranked at #6 and Laurel Aitken's Ska with Laurel (Cherry Red) was at #10 (I would have gone with either High Priest of Reggae or Laurel Aitken Says Fire--but I've always been a sucker for his skinhead reggae material: make sure to play "Reggae Prayer" for me when I eventually slip this mortal coil).

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Pama International received a rave review (4 stars) from David Katz in MOJO for their latest, Pama Outernational....

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I haven't been feeling well enough to put much though into this yet, but which releases would make your list of top 5 or 10 best ska albums of 2009? Post 'em in the comments section!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Moon Ska Records in the Voice

Editor's note: Sorry not to have posted much has been killer...but I have some time off soon and will have lots of time to write! Apologies to all Duff Guide to Ska readers!

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A preview in the Village Voice for The Slackers' upcoming shows at The Knitting Factory Brooklyn has a surprising amount of coverage of their crappy relationship with Moon Records for something that went down ages ago. The piece also has elicited a rather angry retort from Slacker Dave Hillyard, who was so pissed off at how the band's sound was described that he needed to post his comment twice. (He also takes an unnecessary swipe at The Toasters--any excuse to lash out at Bucket over past grievances, I suppose.)

While I have to agree this may not be the most flattering article on the band (read it yourself and cringe--or maybe just check out the photo essay "Bathroom Portraits" on the sidebar--NSFW indeed--who knew this could be waiting for them...all I ever find in club crappers are overflowing toilets and piss-soaked floors), but one should always remember that all press (no matter how backhanded the compliments) is good press, kids...

Hell is being completely ignored.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Is Tiger Woods Ska?

With Tiger Woods in the news and all, we thought that this might be a good time to re-visit this excellent tune, which can be found on This is the Porkers, by our good friends (who else but) The Porkers...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

For that Ska Fan on Your Holiday Gift List!

It may be that it simply appeals to the ska collector in me, or that it possesses some irresistible techno-geek/cool factor, but the Madness Concert Stick (which comes pre-loaded your choice of one of a host of live recordings made at Madness concerts during 2009 and also functions as a 1GB flash drive) seems like a pretty cool Xmas or Hanukkah gift for that special rude boy or girl on your naughty but nice list.

Plus, I do know that the somewhat recent re-design of Madness' classic 'M' logo is pretty sweet-- and anything-Madness related just tends to be pretty incredible, just like the band themselves.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chas Smash on Madness' Brilliant Year

As part of their year-end wrap-up for 2009, MOJO Magazine's website sports a short interview with Madness' Chas Smash in their "My Brilliant Year" feature.

Here's the money quote:
I quite frankly wish that they'd resolve their differences with Jerry [Dammers], and I recommend that Jerry just goes off and writes the fucking next Specials album and then says to them, 'Look, there it is.' With Jerry it always takes so long, but everything he works on sustains. The brass intro to Free Nelson Mandela - f*ck me, is that uplifting or what?
Madness' The Liberty of Norton Folgate is one of MOJO's top 50 albums of the year, by the way.

The Return of King Chango

Here's an interesting article from The Miami New Times on the return of King Chango. Originally based in NYC, this Latin ska/worldbeat act released two records on David Byrne's Luaka Bop label and made it big on the Latin alternative music scene before disbanding in 2003. A ska factoid that you may or may not know is that founder and lead singer Andrew "Blanquito Man" Blanco was one of Moon Records' freelance graphic designers in the mid 90s--before launching his band, he worked on the first Skarmageddon comp; The Toasters' Skaboom reissue, Dub 56, and Hard Band For Dead; The NY Citizens' The Truth About The NY Citizens; and the Latin Ska comps, among others.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Better Must Come

Despite the fact that there are so many compelling and gifted bands now active on the current US ska scene who are regularly playing out and releasing some excellent new music, ska is in trouble here in the States.

A majority of ska fans (and music fans in general) continue to acquire their music through illegal file sharing rather than by purchasing it, digitally downloaded or otherwise (old news, for sure, but absolutely worth repeating here, again and again). The fans who are inclined to go to shows and actually buy albums and merch have much less disposable income to spend, due to the crappy economy. And the independent ska labels, battered by quarter after quarter of poor sales--and who persevere despite their diminishing returns each year--continue to be increasingly weakened in their ability to finance much of anything beyond the very basics of printing up short runs of new releases to sell (forget about promotions to college/alternative radio, music press, and clubs; ad campaigns; tour support; music videos, etc.).

Ska bands all over the US are doing what they can to get by--local and regional gigs; releasing material via digital tracks on iTunes, CD-Rs, the occasional piece of vinyl or plant-manufactured CD, either self-financed or licensed to one of the indies--all of which is great, but probably won't lead to bigger things. It really makes one question whether or not the US ska scene will ever be in a position to rise beyond its present state.

Clearly, the scene is lacking an energized center, an organizing, hydra-headed entity with the cash, peoplepower, verve, and mad skills to produce, release, and distribute a steady stream of albums (digital or tangible); to put together larger package tours that are the bread and butter of both established acts and newcomers; and effectively promote everything to the core of fans and beyond in a manner that actually makes a profit (so both the bands and label peeps who do the work get paid) to keep it all functioning and moving forward. You know, a label like...Moon Records, which in a somewhat similar climate in the early 90s (bad economy; a fragmented, disorganized ska scene) was able to help successfully develop a nationwide syndicate of college radio stations, local newspapers and zines, and indie record shops to help promote and sell ska releases, as well as forge a coast-to-coast network of ska-friendly venues for the well-established bands to tour (and local acts to play).

But the Catch-22 of the matter is that the model of selling albums that worked well for decades is obviously no longer viable, since a generation of music fans have abandoned it for the '77 NYC blackout-like looting of the digital age. Where and how are the cash-deprived labels going to find the resources to invest in and promote new acts? The only bands that stand half-a-chance of earning a livelihood from their music are those who made their names in the pre-file sharing era (if The Specials come over to tour they will, no doubt, rake in the bucks--but a new release, however unlikely that is, would probably tank; and I'm really curious to see how the new Mighty Mighty Bosstones record will fare...). In this environment, the prospects for up-and-coming ska bands to take things to the next level are kind of bleak.

While no one that I've spoken with seems to have been able to formulate a reasonably viable solution to all this (and I have no radical new model to offer for successfully selling music in the digital era), let me offer this fairly simple suggestion--consider it a New Year's resolution for 2010: ska fans need to open their wallets if we want the scene to survive and thrive.

We need to change our ways.

I'm not admonishing anyone for past sins, real or imagined--and don't want to get into recriminations over this whole file sharing business. (Well, apart from the fact that it is illegal to do so, since it violates the bands' copyrights; denies musicians the opportunity to support themselves off their own blood, sweat, and tears; and is killing parts of the music industry that are worth salvaging, such as indie labels, record stores, local clubs, and your favorite ska band.)

If we want the ska scene to keep going, all of us who call ourselves fans need to collectively pay for it. In our capitalistic, free-market society, it's just how things work. So now is the time to turn off YouTube and get out to see a gig (and buy something from a band's merch table); yank out our iPod ear buds and wander into a record shop to pick up some releases (if one is left where you live!); and shun the file sharing sites in favor of ordering a CD, album, or download from Megalith, Jump Up, Stubborn, and Asian Man, or directly from your favorite ska band.

We've got to support (in every meaning of the word) ska bands and labels if we want them to keep on doing what we want them to do: make the music we love. The bills have to be paid to keep the scene going...or eventually the only thing left to do will be to decide who'll be the last one to turn out the lights after everything fades away.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Interview with Paul Gil of The NY Citizens and Legal Gender

Marco on the Bass has a terrific interview with Paul Gil, the original bassist for The NY Citizens (as well as for its previous incarnation as Legal Gender). It's a must read.

The Duff Guide to Ska has a particular interest in the NYCs (they were one of our favorite bands back in day--one of the best ska shows I've ever seen was The NY Citizens and The Scofflaws at The Pyramid in May 1989). We've done some documenting of this band on our own--read this, this, and this. Also check here, here, and there.

Late Breaking News: NYC Ska Splash This Saturday Night

I've actually been checking The Knitting Factory Brooklyn website over the past several days to see which bands will be featured at the next Ska Splash and there's been nada. Bupkus. I was beginning to think it wasn't going to happen (especially in light of the two Slackers' shows later this month at The Knit). So it's a pleasant surprise to receive late word courtesy of Stubborn Records of the line-up for this Saturday night's show:
Saturday, December 5, 2009
NYC Ska Splash Saturday
Silver Dollar (vintage ska outta Jersey)
The Have Nots (Boston ska-punk)
Predator Dub Assassins (Jersey rub-a-dub/reggae)
The Moderators (Wash, DC ska/jazz/reggae)
w/Selecter Jah Burns spinning all night long!

The Knitting Factory, 361 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
(347) 529-6696
@ 7:00 pm : $10 adv / $12 dos
All Ages to enter / 21+ to drink

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stranger Things Have Happened

Just before the Thanksgiving break (and here I offer my apologies for not posting much last week--between getting together with extended family and painting our kitchen, I just didn't have the time or energy left over to write anything coherent or relevant), I went to a "publishing party" at my daughter's second grade classroom (where all the parents come to read their child's big writing project) wearing a Toasters "Night Train to Moscow" t-shirt. The assistant teacher, whom I really like and respect, comes up to me and says, "The Toasters--I used to see them all the time back when I as 13 and hanging out at The Wetlands every weekend." Despite feeling kind of old and awkward at this, I tell him that I used to work with the band at their label, etc. and had just seen Bucket a few weeks earlier, etc. at a gig in Brooklyn. Not sure if he was surprised or impressed by this (neither was intended), but what a weird connection--my ska past haunts me wherever I go!

Thanks to John at HP Skazine for the holiday illustration! The choice of food here might not really be Thanksgiving-y, but the sentiment sure is right. And continued respect to Mr. Doug Trendle for having the longest tongue in ska.

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Several Duff Guide readers have been kind enough to alert me that I'm on somebody's naughty list...(and here we are just a few weeks away from Xmas!):

The irony is that as I am a Verizon Wireless customer...have been for years.