Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Duff Review: The Frightnrs EP

Digital 6-track EP
Available via Bandcamp

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The Frightnrs have got such an authentic reggae/rub-a-dub vibe going that by the time I finished listening to their remarkable new self-titled EP (which sports a rich and warm sound thanks to Victor "Ticklah" Axelrod and Agent Jay), I was unsure if what I had heard were mostly originals or covers of obscure tunes learned from well-worn 45s unearthed from the depths of the best used record store I've never yet had the pleasure to find. For the record--and I double checked with Frightnrs ace keyboardist Chuck Patel about all this--the only track they version is Jackie Mittoo's sublime "Ram Jam" on "Walkin'." But check out a track like "Zombieland"--with its frustratingly familiar keyboard riff (for about a day it drove me crazy that I couldn't figure out what it sounded like, but finally had the revelation that it mimics the vocal line from The Congos' "La La Bam Bam"--but then again, it also reminded me of Desmond Dekker's "Pretty Africa")--or anything else on this stellar six-track EP and you'll be stunned by how much this band understands, live in, and loves rocksteady, 70s reggae, and early dancehall.

With its killer vintage Jackie Mittoo/Harry J organ lines, the bubbly yet edgy "& I Wouldn't Tell You This" ("...if I didn't really care") corners you to bestow some wisdom on you via half a dozen proverbs and maxims--and even hilariously re-defines some of them ("It don't mean you're weak/if you turn the other cheek/As long as you come back around/and smack their face"). Knowledge is power, right? "Evening Time" is an answer record to Maddie Ruthless' track of the same name off her new album (about a couple only having the nighttime to share together, since the rest of their time is devoted to eking out a living); this one's from the boys' point of view ("The only time I feel alive/in the evening time/The only place I feel alright/with your hand in mine/So meet me at the familiar spot/that's where I'll be/'Cause I've been there a million times/waiting patiently/in the evening time"). If there's a way to translate the lonely beauty and shrouded mystery of nighttime and the feelings of anxiety, anticipation, and gonzo ecstasy when you're crazy in love into music, this is how it would sound--it's that perfect.

The urgent, minor-key, and damn catchy "Ties Been Severed" captures the singer stunned in the wake of a break-up, but not remotely ready to give up on his lady ("Now, the ties you have to sever/I'll stop loving you--never!/Not as I'm grieving/'Cause no matter what you do/I'll spend my whole life loving you/Still believing, oh yeah.") The sax and keyboard trade some great riffs here. "Walkin'" is another exceptionally smooth 'n' romantic pitch (via the aforementioned "Ram Jam" rhythm) to a special lady: "Walkin'/baby, I walk to you/and you know that it's true, yeah/Talking/baby, I talk with you/Hope/that you'll come back to me/Longing/baby, I long for you/and you know that it's true, yeah..."

Exhorting the listener to "think for yourself and trust your instincts," "Zombieland" decries how we're all "living a zombieland...you no see dem there...zombie dem all around" (shades of They Live!). The threat to humanity here isn't from zombifying infection or attack from the zombie hordes (see 28 Days Later or World War Z)--it's from people not using their own brains on a daily basis and opening themselves up to being manipulated/exploited by more powerful forces in pursuit of their own pernicious agendas. (Pretty much sums up the current Citizens United state of affairs in the USA right now, doesn't it?)

I have to say that The Frightnrs EP is one the most compelling new releases I've heard in a while--and it absolutely is on The Duff Guide to Ska's list of "best ska/reggae releases of 2012."

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For a limited time, The Frightnrs EP may be downloaded for free from Bandcamp (but please consider paying something for it...this music has great value to it and the band obviously worked overtime to make something this incredibly good).

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