Bitter Grounds – Hollowlands

© 2016


Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

bitter-grounds-hollowlandsBoom! Ska-tinged punk rock fired like a rocket out of Netherlands. I’m rocking a brand new release (December 2016) from Bitter Grounds. 11 smashing tracks that are simultaneously, a breath of fresh air, and a nod to late 90’s punk / ska punk. Hollowlands is a DIY effort done in conjunction with the band and Ring of Fire Records, Bad Granola Records, and Nextpunk Records.

On initial listen, the vocals strike me as a curious approximation of Lemmy, Leatherface, and Lars Frederiksen. Layer this on top of very fluid guitar melodies, reggae chop, and solid backing rhythms and you’re at the core of Bitter Ground’s sound. Don’t let me pigeonhole the album, however, that’s merely the gist of it. There’s plenty more variety going on up here.

As much as there’s Rancid influence, I’m also picking up reminders of Classic’s of Love and the vocal delivery method of Jesse Michaels. Maybe I’m inventing it in my head, or perhaps the band is as big of Op Ivy fans as I am.

Bottom line is that though the struggle continues, music is still being made. Art that addresses life’s concerns, society’s problems, humanity, solidarity, all the feelings that are challenging to express outside of the realm of art. Without struggle we wouldn’t find catharsis. Maybe struggle is worth it? Just remember, Ska’s not dead. Punk’s not dead. Check this shit out. It’s got all things that are good.

Cheers!
Jerry Actually

Tracks:
1. Hollowlands 02:39
2. Struck Out 03:11
3. Tell Me Now 02:46
4. Life of Violence 03:27
5. Human Touch 02:55
6. Patience 02:31
7. Pressure 03:04
8. Fine, Alright 02:10
9. Dead in my Head 01:30
10. Breakdown 03:46
11. Trouble 03:11

Labels:
Ring of Fire records ( http://rof-records.com/ )
Nextpunk Records ( http://www.nextpunk.ch/ )
Bad Granola Records ( https://www.facebook.com/Badgranola/ )

Bitter Grounds – Struck Out (OFFICIAL VIDEO)

Dutch punk/ska outfit Bitter Grounds, just released a music video of their song ‘Struck Out’. The song will be featured on the upcoming full-length album, to be released near the end of the year through German DIY label Ring of Fire Records.

You can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KmiYSj2u9E or watch it below.

Bitter Grounds rose from the ashes of ska-punk band Beans, which formed in 1996 and played hundreds of shows, and released four well-received records, until calling it quits around 2005. Ten years and several bands later, the foursome are back better than ever!

Cheers!
Jerry Actually

The Barstool Preachers – One Fool Down

The Barstool Preachers – One Fool Down
Pirates Press Records

Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

PPR139“Never look down on anyone, unless you’re giving ‘em a hand up.” ~The Barstool Preachers. This lyric sets the tone for the debut EP from UK ska punk band The Barstool Preachers. I’ve been listening to the three track EP for a couple weekends now and the more I listen, the more I get drawn into the upbeat hook heavy sound.

If I may make an attempt to describe the sound, (you know I’m going to) I’d say we’ve got about a 60/40 blend with the high side leaning towards the ska end of the ska-punk spectrum. I hear influences of Madness, Specials, NOFX, Dropkick Murphys, Goldfinger, and “Stay Tuned” era Let’s Go Bowling. Of course these other bands may or not be influential in the least for this band, but artifacts or their sounds can be gleaned if you listen in.

All of my perceived references aside, despite lyrics that are tinged with a bit of drunken regret, I get a solid sense of positivity out of this band’s sound. They don’t come across as pissed or whiney, but friendly and real. Sure, I like ska punk and this is 100% up my alley, but the songs tell a story and the sound puts me in a happy mood. The only drawback is that you only get four-ish minutes of this gem.

What you get at the end is a one fine EP from what seems to be a promising beginning to an new ska punk band. Three cheers for The Barstool Preachers.

And just in case you don’t want to take my word for it, please enjoy this video:

-Jerry Actually

After the Fact – Limit Break

(c) 2014
Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

atf coverFlorida has been a stronghold for ska punk since the mid 90’s. Just check out the “Closer Than You” compilations that were released in ’96 and ’98 if you need proof. Florida ska band After The Fact fights to keep this legacy alive with their freshman release titled “Limit Break”.

The overall sound of the album is decidedly ska with heavy elements of punk, some screamo, and metal thrown in for good measure. Opening the record is “Sick as a Dog” which starts with guitar that immediately makes me think of MU330 and their big tune “LA”. The difference in this song, however, is that it soon kicks it up a notch with Reel Big Fish-style horn breaks, and Bosstones-esque vocals.

Lyrics are well written and songs are structured really well around the vocals. Clean backing vocals are everywhere on this album and if you’re anything like me you catch yourself singing along with them more than the main lines more often than not. The tune “Take a Hint” is a perfect example of the call-and-answer between the primary vocal line and gang vocals + horns that ATF does really well. There are some really sick guitar solos that blew me away and the layered harmonies made them even better.

With all of the good that’s in this album, there are some areas for improvement. Vocal performances sometimes seem pushed to their limits, horn blend is off regardless of solid performance by the players, themselves, and while listening through the CD I could occasionally hear the trademark click that can happen with digital editing.

With stand out songs like “Ridiculous” and “Last Fight”, ATF might just be going places if they continue to polish their sound. As someone who listens to a lot of ska (probably more than I should), I really enjoyed hearing all the influences that these guys have. I suggest you go like them on Facebook (at https://www.facebook.com/atffla) and check out if they’re playing a show near you.

THE TL;DR is..

After the Fact’s freshman album “Limit Break” scored 7/10 with me. The songs are killer and well written. The members are talented and bring some great moments to the album. That said, there are some recording issues that hold this back from being really top notch.

-Joe Ska

Eli Whitney & The Sound Machine – Mickey

© 2011
Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Mickey is a 10 track punk infused ska release by long island band Eli Whitney & The Sound Machine. The band positions itself as a skapunk outfit, and I suppose I can see that. However I think they lean, on this release at least, more towards the ska end of the spectrum. I am totally cool with that.

Mickey came out at the tail end of 2011 and from what I can tell is the third release from the band. The tracks on the album typify what I’ve come to think of as the 4th wave sound. Ska, if you know anything of its history, tends to take the traditional calypso rhythms and styles and blend them with both popular and less popular music of the current era, e.g. punk and metal of the respective 2nd and 3rd waves.

The current incarnation is to some extent bridging the divide over from the 3rd wave with a ska punk sound that has become more rooted in a less aggressive punk style and to a certain degree almost a blend of vaguely folkish rock. Eli Whitney & The Sound Machine do an admirable job with this style and easily recall their influences and contemporaries like Streetlight Manifesto and Big D. and the Kids Table.

On the whole, Mickey is a great release. You can download it from the bandcamp site for whatever price you feel it’s worth. If you can afford to, I’d suggest dropping some coin for this release and in return for your download you’re donating to the honorable cause of supporting independent music.

–Jerry Actually