For almost a year now, some of my friends and I have been sharing an album with one another, partly for exposure to new music and partly to give us something to listen to while we work, etc. We’re supposed to review it, rate it, and share those reviews/ratings with one another as well, but that doesn’t always happen.
Swim Hershel Swim – Burn Swim Burn (1994)
Their MySpace page (remember back when that was cool?) had their whole album for download, but MySpace has since changed their format and you can’t download the album any more. However, their keyboardist/founder went through and remastered the tracks over several years and posted them on his blog for download. He missed two tracks of the album (and mislabeled Fuz so it looks like there are two songs named Bohemian), but the posts are an interesting read. You can find the (complete) original version other places online to download for free (I have no idea about legality, though).
Anyway, Swim Herschel Swim was a band formed mostly of BYU students in 1989 when 3rd wave ska was still an underground rumbling but was growing, and Provo was a hotspot for ska. They played and toured a lot around Provo, Vegas, and even L.A. at times and opened for some big names, notably No Doubt. They had so much energy most venues around Provo would not allow them back after playing a show, but they were good enough the fan base just kept growing.
This album is kind of their final testament. They broke up in 1994, before ska became mainstream at all in the U.S. At that point they were touring a lot, practicing three times a week, trying to keep day jobs, and recording the album. And they just couldn’t do it. They broke up as soon as the album was finished. But this album really shows how tight a band they were.
Being a local band who broke up before really being proved by the music market, I was unsure what to think. Playing the same kind of music in the same scene, I had heard of them, but never heard their stuff. The first two songs on the album make me a little apprehensive, but it quickly got better.
I actually listened to both the original album and the remastered edition. Mostly, the changes are subtle. Most notably, I feel like the keys get a greater presence. Probably because the guy doing the remastering is the keyboard player….
There are other changes, too. The mix and balance are better. There’s a little more bass end. The drums seem crisper and drier. And it’s all a little louder.
For some songs, like Clueless, I feel like the remaster got better. On the other end, I feel like the original version of Chevy Bossa Nova is better than the remaster. Don’t get me wrong, though. Those two and General are the three best tracks. On the remastered version anyway.
The highlight of the album didn’t get a remaster. Or he forgot to post it. If you only have the remasters, track 10, Bigot, is worth seeking out. The other song that got left off (track 6. Greed) is okay, so you could pick that up while you’re at it, but you’re missing out if you’re missing Bigot.
The album as a whole has a little more metal influence than I like to hear in my ska. I have metal influences. I played in a metal band for a while. And sometimes I like cross-genre stuff, but it didn’t work for me here. You can tell they listened to bands like Fishbone and probably Voodoo Glow Skulls.
I’d probably add half this stuff (the not so hard ska) to a playlist in the future. 3/5
Cat Stevens – Teaser and the Firecat (1971)
I’ve never been a huge Cat Stevens fan. I’m radio fan. I know the hits. And I thought that would have been enough to prepare me for what I expected to be a soft little folk rock album.
But two tracks in, Rubylove made me start to rethink my expectations. I really loved the Greek feel. You don’t really hear that much. Unless maybe you’re from the Mediterranean. And it makes sense, considering that Stevens’ dad was Greek (Cat Stevens is just a stage name; he was born Steven Demetre Georgiou).
I also really liked Changes IV. It was a little more raw, and a little funkier than I expected. Tuesday’s Dead also felt a little like that, but it also had a Caribbean groove to it, too, that made me think of something Raffi would have done. Not that Tuesday’s Dead is a children’s song; it just has that kind of musical feel. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering Peace Train (one of the two songs from this album I had heard before) also has a bit of that funkier feel to it.
Mostly, though, my expectations were spot on. The only low light of the album, Morning Has Broken, was kind of a yawner, but I liked the piano part.
One thing that kinda bothered me, but I mostly just found funny. If I didn’t know the name of the song was If I Laugh, I would have thought he was saying “syphilis,” which would be confusing.
It’s a good album with a couple great tracks. 3/5
I know he’s Yusef now, but he will always be Cat Stevens to me. Luckily he was Cat Stevens when he recorded this album, so I don’t sound like I’m ignoring his religious choices.
Goo Goo Dolls – A Boy Named Goo (1995)
I’m not a huge Goo Goo Dolls fan, but I liked Dizzy Up the Girl and I loved Let Love In. But I had never heard this album before.
And it was nothing like what I expected. Generally, I put Goo Goo Dolls on the softer pop side of the alternative rock spectrum. This album was not that. Except for Name, this whole album rocks harder than any other collection of Goo Goo Dolls songs I can remember hearing. In fact, songs like Only One were almost punkish. And I liked it. Apparently that’s what their sound before this was like, and Name really marked the turning point to a softer sound.
Disconnected is a punk song, written by a punk band from the Goo Goo Dolls hometown, Buffalo, New York. And I actually thought the Dolls sounded almost Foo Fighters-esque in this song. Which is a compliment.
And Robby Takac? I’ve always thought his voice was annoying, but I really liked Impersonality. You could tell it was him, but it sounds like he after this he strained his voice and it became that whiney, gravely mess I can’t stand. So Long and Slave Girl (another cover of a punk song) started to get that way, but Something Bad, while not as good as Impersonality, is still one of the best things I’ve ever heard him sing.
I think the highlight of this album is Eyes Wide Open, which was originally supposed to be the album closer.
The first four tracks weren’t really memorable. They weren’t bad. They just felt like filler, which is odd because they’re at the top of the record. Otherwise, this whole album was really good. It felt like a completely different band than recorded Let Love In. I guess 10 years will do that. It did it for The Beatles. Unfortunately the decade after Let Love In haven’t been as good.
But I’m not giving this album a rating based on where the band went afterwards. Maybe later the novelty of this album will wear off and it’ll just sound like a run-of-the-mill mid-’90s alt. rock album, but for now I think it gets a 4/5.
Five Iron Frenzy – 2: Electric Boogaloo (2001)
Except for Plan B and a little part of Juggernaut, this album has no ska music on it. And even then, it’s not really ska so much as rock with funk overtones. Most of this album is a mix between punk and alt. rock – that vague early 2000s genre – backed by a horn section.
This is not their second studio album. It’s their fourth. In fact, after this they only had a b-sides album and one studio album before going on hiatus for 10 years – only recently returning from the dead to record and go on tour.
You may also notice that songs like Far, Far Away, Spartan, Juggernaut, Eulogy and maybe some others have some Christian overtones. While the lead singer and the bassist from The ‘Bats are Christians, I feel like they’ve only ever written one song that felt “Christian.” FIF are hardcore Christians. At least two of them were ministers. But I don’t feel like they’re one of those Christian bands. It’s part of who they are, so of course it’s going to come through in their writing, but it’s not the whole point of their music. Or even the point of the songs that have that content.
While this album has a lot of my favorite stuff from them, it also has what may be my least favorite song of theirs: The Day We Killed. Many of their songs are full of self-deprecating humor (Pre-Ex Girlfriend, You Can’t Handle This, Plan B), but The Day We Killed is oddly serious, dealing with the injustices to the Sioux and other first peoples. And the music reflects the lyrics. In that way, it’s artfully done, but I still don’t really like it.
Here’s what some other people had to say:
“I like that FIF is Christian rock but not worship music, if that makes sense. However I haven’t listened to a ton of their stuff. Another band I was excited to try the first time but then I really didn’t like the singers voice (seemed nasaly/whiny) so it didn’t go very far. I found his voice much more pleasant here.
Pre-Ex-Girlfriend sounds like a Reel Big Fish song. Horns have a lot of bleed/reverb which makes them sound like they’re standing backstage or something while the “core” of the band is front and center. It sounds disjointed to me.
You Can’t Handle This – Nice break to have a slower one, but it’s still got the same rock tone as the other songs. Horns are kinda buried (which I take personal offense at, as a trombone player), but really the song as a whole is nice to listen to.
Day We Killed – it was good you mentioned the weakness of this song in the album otherwise it would really have hurt my rating. I don’t even think this is that well done of art. More like a Jr High essay put to music. It’s not pleasant to listen to for sure.
Juggernaut – I like the rhythm and the springy reverbed guitar.
Plan B – AHA! I heard some skank rhythm hidden in there 😉 Fun song though.
Blue Mix sounds a bit like he’s trying too hard to sound hardcore.
Overall the album was nice, but didn’t really grab me except a couple of places where I thought it sounded nice. I didn’t especially care for the mix burying the horns everywhere, I think they would gain more differentiation by placing the horns up front RBF style. So we’ll see. I’ll probably like it more if I give it more listens, especially if I catch what he’s singing (not really feasible at work most times).” 3.8/5 -Spencer
“Funny story – I accidentally searched “Five Finger Death Punch” in Spotify (I’ve always mixed these two bands up because of working in the music store and seeing them next to each other on the shelf so much). The only reason I recall them on the shelf so clearly though was because of their Doug TenNapel covers on a few of their albums (he’s the artist most famous for creating Earthworm Jim). Back then those covers got me interested in the band enough to check them out, but they just weren’t my thing. I believe I also remember Paul talking them up back then too. Listening to them today doesn’t really change my opinion though. Another reason I have a hard time with this brand of ska/punk is how much it sounds like high school. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed high school, but when I hear this kind of music I think of all the negatives of high school. It reminds me of all the superficiality associated with that age. Had I been into them DURING high school, I’d probably appreciate it more out of nostalgia. All that aside though, I did enjoy this more than Hershel. I like the guitar work here, especially the song “Farsighted.” Some fun riffage going on there, sort of reminded me of early Less Than Jake (a good thing in my opinion). But overall, not the kind of music I was wanting to hear this week.” 5.5/10 -Chris
“When this albums started I was a little scared. I didn’t think I would enjoy this album. But it quickly changed and I found myself liking it. It is decent Christian rock. Musically it is good. They have a lot of talent, and I would imagine they have been performing together for a while, because they really blend well. The album structure is pretty decent too. But I have a problem with a lot of Christian rock and it effected my score here. A lot of times Christian rock comes across as either disingenuous, or so cheesy that it seems to cheapen the message (I am awesome, I am the awesomest. Really?). I really hope I’m not offending anyone with my thoughts here; and trust me I am a very religious man, but this genre of music just doesn’t appeal to me. ” 2/5 -Tim