Ska is back. Well, actually, it never really went anywhere. Though the ornery grandfather of reggae — that’s right, dreadies, ska came first — has undergone numerous evolutions since first appearing in Jamaican dancehalls some 60 years ago, the (up)beat goes on — even if it’s occasionally reduced to skanking solitarily in the forgotten corners of popular consciousness. Still, there have always been torchbearers.
The Skatalites — or whatever version of the original group they’re literally rolling out these days — have continued playing virtually from inception. The Toasters picked up the dying embers of Two Tone in the early 1980s and laid the groundwork for the late 1990s revival. And somewhere, most likely in a Midwest teen center, Reel Big Fish continues, shamelessly unabated.
What, then, to make of Burlington’s Husbands AKA? Technically speaking, it’s a bit early for the “Fourth Wave” — if trends hold true, we’re not due for another checkered tsunami for at least another five years. Is it possible Vermont has its own keepers of the flame? With their debut album, Swift Street, the answer is unequivocally “yes.”
In a swirl of Toaster-ly organ and clean, staccato guitar, “Up Beat, Beat Down” introduces the album, and reintroduces the many-splendored wonders of the Third Wave. Vocalist Dylan Burns spits rapid-fire lyrics with just a hint of bratty British sneer before the band floors it into overdrive on an anthemic punk chorus.
“Outcast” follows and gives healthy nods — and fist pumps — to ska’s maladjusted stepbrother, oi.
Both “Ghost Stories” and “Ska Beat” oblige that graffiti’d cornerstone of the Third Wave, ska-punk. The band’s early live shows hinted that they might be more comfortable on the latter side of that particular hyphen. But on both tunes — and, really, throughout the album — Husbands AKA show marked improvements in musicianship, cleanly busting in and out of breakdowns. In particular, Chris Valyou’s bass lines are crisp and bright, accenting Alex Pond’s nifty drumwork. And the interplays between guitarist Sean Fitzpatrick and guitarist/organist Tyson Valyou are seamlessly tight.
“Trustafarian” is a cleverly snarky romp, followed by the mod-ish “American Dream.”
Jawbreaker’s “Boxcar,” the album’s lone cover, is next and reaffirms the unbridled glory that is a well-done ska cover — trust me, not all of them are.
“Dance Party” is perhaps the disc’s lone misstep, as it gamely espouses just about every ska cliché imaginable. Fortunately, it’s followed by the band’s signature tune, the appropriately genre-hopping “Chameleon,” which closes out the disc in rude fashion.
So, yeah. Ska is “back.” Whatever. More importantly, ska is back in Burlington, entrusted to the care of worthy guardians.
Husbands AKA release Swift Street with a locals-only affair at The Monkey House this Friday, April 24.