(Moon Ska NYC)
by Mike Toole
For the past three years, Moon Ska’s Skarmageddon series has been the be-all-end-all of ska samplers; a double-disc set featuring over thirty tracks, all by different bands. The third one is no exception, but there are differences between it and its predecessors.
The first Skarmageddon was truly manna from heaven. A breath of fresh air in a stagnating ska scene, it gave 31 ska bands badly-needed exposure, was of consistently good quality, and could be had for a paltry sixteen bucks. All things considered, it was exactly what the American ska scene needed. The feat was almost duplicated with Spawn of Skarmageddon; however, despite the fact that it featured 43 tracks by all-new bands, the quality varied widely – excellent, well-produced tracks were mixed in with low-sounding, mediocre tracks.
Blessedly, the third release in the Skarmageddon series is free of any such variances in quality. As an added innovation, the CDs are categorized as “Old School/2-Tone” and “Post 2-Tone/Ska Punk.” They feature brand new songs by no less than 45 bands, none of which appear on either of the two previous Skarmageddon compilations.
The `old school’ disc starts off right with “Rude Boy Invasion” by King 7 and the Soulsonics, a hectic tune featuring a wry, amusing narrative reminiscent of the likes of Gil-Scott Heron or William S. Burroughs. The rest of the disc is consistently excellent, with highlights such as Buford O’Sullivan‘s amusing “Decade Revival Song,” a surprisingly robust live recording by the Articles, the Space Heaters‘ lounge-esque “Felix Culpa,” the Studebakers‘ bright, swinging “Rhino,” the DC Ska Orchestra‘s jazzy “Chicago”… I could discuss each of these tracks at length, but I don’t have enough space. The only issue I have with the first disc is the fact that several tracks (which I guess are supposed to be “2-Tone,” though none of them sounds remotely like 2-Tone recordings, with the exception of Greenhouse‘s Beat-esque “Palabras”) are utterly out of place. They’re fast, poppy, and simpler than the traditional songs, but they’re still good.
This problem is carried over a little onto the second disc; allegedly “post 2-Tone,” it nonetheless contains plenty of tracks that are interchangeable with those on the first disc. That fairly trivial aspect aside, it’s still quite good. Modern punk/hardcore-influenced ska is noticeably simpler and less tight than traditional ska, but it’s also often catchier and a bit more accessible. Disc highlights include Critical Mass‘s enjoyably goofy “I Don’t Know What to Do,” Beantown boys Big Lick‘s ultra-quick “7 Grand” (killer horns), Los Skarnales‘ campy, surfy, Spanish-laden “Bomba 48,” Angry Planet‘s incongruously traditional-sounding “Robbin’ Hood,” Sgt. Scagnetti‘s bizarre, new-wavey “Sideshow”… all told, there are about three mediocre tracks on the entire compilation and even those aren’t totally unlistenable.
Skarmageddon 3 has made vast improvements over the quality of its predecessor. If you like any sort of ska, any at all, this compilation is for you. Moon Ska remains the top ska label in the USA, and Skarmageddon 3 is this year’s definitive ska sampler.