Thursday, April 30, 2020

Jump Up's Chuck Wren: Cancel Record Store Day 2020!

Two rude boys dance on a city street at night.In case you missed it, earlier this week, Record Store Day announced that RSD 2020 was being postponed again (it was originally to take place on April 18th, but was moved to June 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic) and will now be spread out over three "drops" on August 29th, September 26th, and October 24th (RSD will be announcing on June 1st which releases will be available when).

Chuck Wren's Jump Up Records was participating in RSD 2020 with the release of The Skatalites' Ska Voove LP (see all other ska-related RSD releases here), but is now calling for the event to be outright cancelled this year. For what it's worth, I completely agree with Chuck--scrap the event, keep people safe and healthy, do some sort of pre-orders through the independent record stores' websites, and help all of the participating shops and labels make some money during a time when the economy is going south quickly.

Chuck's statement is below: 

"CANCEL RECORD STORE DAY! STORES, LABELS, DISTRIBUTORS: Record Store Day just rolled out a new set of release dates and canceled RSD for June (which was bumped from April). The new set of dates will fall in August, September, October, and then Black Friday RSD in November. From what I understand, distributors were told this last week, but had to keep quiet about it. Then RSD decided the new release dates for all the labels and artists that were accepted, but much like the bump in the date to June, never actually talked to any smaller label from what I can tell. The idea of multiple dates is their way to "help" stores under the falsehood that it will help with social distancing. 

However, as someone who has witnessed the insanity at multiple taste-maker indie-stores for 15 years and have personally participated as a label for the past two years, the whole concept of RSD making FOUR EVENTS (which is based around people mobbing a store) is a bad idea during a pandemic. How is this not obvious? RSD still refuses to allow stores to bend on their iron clad rules--to do something like take pre-orders to their store fan base. This would also mean sales way before these "now pushed back even further dates" and put money in bank accounts when it counts. NOW. On the label end, especially a micro-indie label like myself (can you be more micro than a ska label?), I'm not sure how RSD thinks I can sit on a record until October (a date they gave me, they never asked if this date worked, by the way). This means that the money I put up in December of 2019, I won't see until January 2021. Can you tell me how this helps stores or labels at this point? 


Labels who might be doing a RSD release, reach out and let me know if you are thinking of pulling your release. 

Stores: Would a pre-order thing be better, and what do you think of these new dates and the headache of four events, ordering, budgeting, implementing social distancing? (All to be possibly stuck with product you placed on order before a pandemic, which is now spread out over a longer period of time...) 

Anyone you know with a label or record store that is doing a RSD release, please show them this message. I would like to hear more voices on this issue. I think RSD has pretty much jumped the shark. For the safety of music fans and to help brick and mortar record shops now, we think the event should be completely canceled and the product should become available to stores immediately for curbside sales to help them weather the coming months. If this action is not taken, record stores will shut its doors in massive numbers. June 20 was the last hope for many. If you cared about music fans, you would not risk their lives four times in the tail end of 2020, when many health experts fear a second wave of infections. 

I need to feed my family and put money back in the bank. RSD doesn't seem to care about small labels. Otherwise, they wouldn't continue this event. Cancel it. Keep people safe. Let labels and stores move on.

As a label that came up with a Ska At Home campaign and donated the proceeds of close to 100 masks via my Threadless shop, I don't want any fan of my product to risk exposure with this RSD nonsense!

Save Record Stores NOW. Save lives and cancel RSD. 

-- Chuck Wren, Jump Up Records. Since 1993."

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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Georgetown Orbits "The Ska-Jazz Single"

The Georgetown Orbits' logo--a G with a ring around its center, like a satellite orbiting a planet--is surrounded by laurels.Self-released
Digital single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The magnificent new digital single from Seattle's Georgetown Orbits pays tribute to Jamaican ska's roots in black American jazz (that was readily evident in many of the recordings of The Skatalites and other ska musicians who attended the Alpha Boys School--most of whom started their professional careers playing jazz) by covering classics from two of that genre's greatest composers/musicians: Jelly Roll Morton and Charles Mingus. The Ska-Jazz Single features The Georgetown Orbits beautifully covering Morton's "New Orleans Bump" and Mingus' "Haitian Fight Song" in a 1960s trad ska style that would make Tommy McCook and company quite proud--and showcases The Orbits' formidable musicianship in the process. These recordings are very well done, indeed.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Dendrites "Lunchin' with The Dendrites"

The cover features a line illustration of an outstretched hand with the EP's title printed above it.Self-released
CD/digital EP

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Lunchin' with The Dendrites is the absolutely brilliant new EP from Denver's Dendrites that packs quite a wallop in its six tracks of strikingly original ska and jazz. "Dujack," with all of its menace (played by these wonderfully gifted musicians), could be the instrumental theme song for an imagined 1950s or 1960s private eye TV show, as it's in the vein of iconic tracks like "Peter Gunn" (written by Henry Mancini) or "Ironside" (composed by Quincy Jones); the music promises thrills, action, and conflict. "No Money No Sunshine" is an awesomely twisted you're completely bad for me but I can't help but love you mid-tempo ska song: "Baby, your dark cloud's been hanging over me/And I don't miss the sun/'Cause I hate to say, I love you more every single day/...Your vampire ways." I'm not sure if she's literally undead, but it's kind of not good either way.

"Snap Patch" is an easy-going jazzy/funky instrumental, while "Xaasj" (a species of large cacti found in northern Mexico) is a Mexican-ska-jazz blend, cinematic in scope, evoking the high drama of spaghetti Westerns. Perhaps the best cut on the EP, "Bottom Feeder" is an incredible, bright, dubby ska instrumental with these nagging minor-key chord progressions full of apocalyptic "Man at C and A"/"Ghost Town"-type dread (that Jerry Dammers did so well). Equally appropriate for Earth Day or the global COVID-19 pandemic, the sing-along "Don't Wanna Go" is an eco-ska song for environmental end times (it's the cut that should follow "Enjoy Yourself," when that track's lyrics are no longer relevant), which laments what we've done to trash the place, so much so that we have to abandon the mother-ship: "I'm not packing my suitcase 'cause I wanna go/Not packing my bags for a weekend show/I'm packing up 'cause we all gotta leave/'Cause the place we call home's a catastrophe...I'm packing now baby 'cause it's all gonna blow/Well, I tried and I tried and I tried to live green/Beam me up, Scotty, I don't wanna leave."

Lunchin' with The Dendrites is a real gem of an EP and, it almost goes without saying, is one of the best ska releases of the year.

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Take: Flying Vipers "Nervous Breakdub (Pandemic Version)" b/w "PMA Calling"

The cover is an illustration of a Frankenstein-like man with a large fist facing off against a menacing winged viper.Music A.D.D.
Digital single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

While much of the nation--and world--is under heavy coronavirus manners, John and Marc Beaudette of the Boston dub unit Flying Vipers (and reggae-rock band Destroy Babylon) have revisited their really fantastic take on Black Flag's debut Nervous Breakdown EP (which we reviewed last year) with their new digital single "Nervous Breakdub (Pandemic Version)" b/w "PMA Calling." The pandemic version is even better than Flying Vipers' already great first run at this--its now distorted bass more punky and dirty and ballsy, and the use of the forever-locked-in-the-'70s sounds of the Odyssey synthesizer (think of the theme music for the "In Search of..." TV show hosted by Spock) provides a crisp, just shy of cheesy retro-futuristic contrast that works brilliantly. As you might of guessed, "PMA Calling" is Bad Brains-related; it's Flying Vipers' cover of BB's "Jah Calling" from their yellow ROIR tape (Bad Brain's debut release in '82), which turned on John Beaudette and countless other budding American teen punk rockers to reggae (and blew so many people's minds that Bad Brains could play both hardcore and roots reggae so damn well). Flying Vipers again make terrific use of the Odyssey synth with spaced-out sounds that soothe the stressed-out mind/body and float above the insistent, ever forward moving rhythm section (I'd listen to this in a sensory deprivation tank!). These stellar tracks will greatly enhance your lockdown playlist and help keep you going during dark and uncertain times.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra "Skapara's Intro"

The title of the album is printed on the album cover in large Japanese characters.Epic/Sony (1990), Great Tracks/Sony Music Direct (2019)

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Late last year, Sony Japan reissued five of Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's earliest releases on vinyl (their self-titled 1989 12" debut EP, Skapara's Intro, TSPO Live, World Famous, and Fantasia), all of which are now available as shockingly expensive imports in the US and Europe (anywhere from $55 to $70+). I had managed to pick up a few of these titles on CD back in the '90s at Tower Records on 4th Street and Broadway, but never saw any of them on vinyl (which was falling out of favor with the music industry and music fans then). So, when I saw that one very mainstream US record chain was offering them on enough of a sale that made their cost slightly less outrageous, I opted to buy their first full-length album, Skapara's Intro, which is an absolute ska classic (though I also really wanted to purchase their incredible 12" debut EP, but getting both was too much of a hit to my wallet). When Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (TSPO, AKA Skapara) played Sony Hall here in Manhattan last October, I had hoped that they would be offering these reissues at their merch table, but no such luck.

Like their peers The Ska Flames, one of their main Japanese rivals at the time, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's brand of ska was very much in the mold of The Skatalites--1960s big band Jamaican ska played almost effortlessly by wonderfully gifted musicians--and many of the brilliant original tracks on Skapara's Intro are in this vein. But there's also this crackling undercurrent running through the album that hints at at the band's explosive power and their willingness to push the boundaries of this genre in all directions (see "Monster Rock" and "Kimi To Boku"), something that would become much more evident on subsequent albums.

The majority of Skapara's Intro consists of boss ska instrumentals like the the bright and chipper "Strange Bird," "Vampire" (a cinematic track that evokes a Bela Lugosi character both debonaire and deadly), "Monster Rock" (earth-shaking Dick Dale surf-ska meets Godzilla--and their first hit in Japan), "Kozou No Kousin" (a very funky take on Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk"--it seemed like every ska band was covering this at the time, including Bad Manners and Napoleon Solo), the Far East-sounding "Uuhan No Onna," "Golden Tiger," the ebullient and increasingly manic "Dokidoki Time" (which I believe translates as "Pounding Time"), and the straight-up jazz track "Getsumen Butou." The only songs with vocals (sung mostly in Japanese) are their white hot version of Percy Mayfield's "Hit the Road Jack" (that incorporates a bit of the "Star Wars" theme during the keyboard solo) and "Nigai Namida" ("Bitter Tears"), a highly melodramatic, slightly Western reggae-ish cut (the use of the string section is amazing here). The album ends with the odd but kind of extraordinary "Kimi To Boku" ("You and I"), a very French sounding track (like something out of a Charles Boyer film) that features a band member whistling the melancholy melody, purposely out of key at times, accompanied only by an accordion.

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra has covered a lot of ground in the three decades since releasing Skapara's Intro (they're up to 22 studio records, five live albums, and a host of singles and EPs), but this album (and their debut EP that just preceded it) showed that they had it all in place from the very start. Without a doubt, TSPO's Skapara's Intro was one of the finest albums released during the late '80s/early '90s global ska scene--and is certainly a recording of great significance and importance in the ever-evolving history of ska music.

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