We Live In A Ska-ciety
I hate Ska. It’s tough for me to pin down when my loathing for this dated genre of sugar-coated punk came about, but foggy memories come to mind of dreary high school lunch periods spent dealing with lame guitar nerds who worshiped the likes of Streetlight Manifesto and Reel Big Fish. They’d drag my face up to their laptop screens, blasting my eyes with a shit-show of music videos staring boring pastel animals, playfully goring one another to a hyperactive ska-punk score. Visibly bored and pointing out the obvious, “Only twelve-year olds could like this crap”, they’d try to convince me otherwise: “But dude! Listen to how tight their transitions are! Do you not hear how quickly they change chord arrangements? They’re like genre hopping from Reggae to Spanish brass in a second! Sure, it’s like poppy garbage, BUT IT’S GOOD POPPY GARBAGE!!!”
I still stand by my teenage cynicism. Ska (well, really Ska-punk), is a genre no one passed their tweens should be getting into. It’s one of those “entry level” styles of rock that seems appropriate as the background music to a toy commercial from the early 2000’s, not for serious listening; even if you’re just trying to have some serious fun, dude! So, my dear reader, taking my disdain into account you may be wondering “Why bother covering a Ska album then, jackass!? Stop being a prick! Talk about something you actually enjoy!” Well friend, first off, I’d just like to say thanks for stopping by my website, please share it with all your music friends and tell them about how miserable of a person I am but don’t worry things will get better I promise oh please for the love of God don’t leave me here, I’ll change, I swear! Secondly, I feel it’s appropriate to cover an album that tries so hard to address several socio-political concerns, that so obviously plague the collective consciousness of American society, through such a tacky and culturally irrelevant genre of music. Finally moving past this needlessly long and self-indulgent introduction, readers I present to you The Joker’s Republic’s debut album: “Falling Behind”.
The Joker’s Republic, or more fondly referred to as the “Elected Representatives of the Joker’s Republic”, are a North Jersey Ska-punk trio who’ve made it their mission to represent Ska-punk in all its ridiculous and vapid glory. Feeling good from their first tour in 2018, where they got the chance to gloat and tote their punk rock greatness over the air waves and elicit some coverage from the likes of “What Do You Know About SkaPunk?”, this fearless administration is now prepared to take their next step towards making their mark in the music world with their first full length album. The album’s cover features comic book versions of our Jokers, plummeting helplessly down a checker patterned background where, no doubt, gruesome spaghetti-fication awaits. Reaching out in peril, their lead singer wears a face begging, pleading, “Please, save us from ending up at the bottom of a thrift store music bin! We did our best! Really! We’re just trying to have fun!”
Despite the band promoting themselves as another goofy Ska-punk outfit, a bulk of the album unloads a swamp of vacuous “social commentary” that I can only assume is trying to rile up its listeners, with the band banking that their feelings towards modern America are just as desolate and one dimensional as their own. With tracks like “American’t Dream”, making puns of patriotic American idioms as the lead singer strains through a laborious chorus that’s way too busy for its meter, “Trump Card”, a bland punk track that echoes Donald Trump rhetoric and its popular accompanying criticisms, and “Politics Belong in Punk Rock”, a public service announcement that educates the listener with a deflated abridgment of punk’s relevance to social politics, the band succeeds in sporting lyrics that are better suited for a fifty word Facebook tangent. Songs like “Mannequin” or “Talking to Strangers” try to break away from the album’s opaque political theme, instead highlighting the more down to earth struggles of your average twenty-something year old who’s not quite sure of their standing in life, wondering and pining away as to whether they’ll ever make it as a Ska-punk star (you know, somewhere we’ve all been). But even when the band tries to speak from experience, their lack of lingual nuance or color makes these tracks a snore to listen to. The lead singer also struggles to put any energy in his voice beyond a gentle whine, at times even falling behind tempo, resulting in some obvious edits and warping of his tracks to match the mix's speed. The band’s arrangement isn’t any better. From what I can tell, Ska-punk’s charm stems from its seamless and often vivacious transition of styles; mostly flowing between punk, reggae, and rock. Unfortunately, our elected officials don’t seem proficient on this front either. Many tracks are static in genre for most of their run-time, with any swaps in tempo or style being jaunt and predictable; the title and closing track “Falling Behind” is exemplar of this, with its progression from off-beat strumming, to punk, to reggae being locked down by the song’s verse-chorus-bridge structure.
Truthfully, this album isn’t terrible. Painfully average for a pop-rock release, sure; the production is fine and stale as saltines, and the band’s actual playing never falters or sounds sloppy. I’m sure for those who are die-hard Ska junkies, they’ll like this album as much as any other Ska CD they’ve blasted through their car stereo while going 90mph on a school night. From videos I’ve seen of their live shows, people do show up and seem to have a great time; so hey, that's gotta be worth something. As for New Jersey, it looks like a persistent following exists for this fleeting genre of pop-rock; I suppose there’s merit in that. For me though, I’ll stick to my Sinatra covers and Springsteen bar bands.
Wanna hear them live? The Joker’s Republic will be hosting an album release party on April 27th at Brighton Bar, Long Branch, NJ; they’ll be sharing the bill with “Backyard Superheroes” and “The Schwam”. Do the right thing and play an active role as a citizen of The Joker’s Republic; fulfill your civic obligation to have a Ska-tastic time!