By Nick Cvijovic
Local ska dudes, Beat the Smart Kids (BtSK), really pull off a fun-as- hell and totally danceable album with Broke Again. Having played with these guys before, as well as seeing them a handful of times, I really dig their more Madness approach to the genre rather than the hardcore/skacore sound that a lot of bands utilize. Not ripping on that sound at all, I just feel like there is a lack of more old-school ska in the local scene; but then again who am I and what do I know? The band features members of locally renowned bands such as Still Alive, the Damn Tracks, Waste Basket, and Indecisives. BtSK also uses keyboards and that right there makes for an A plus effort. I like keyboards.
Anyway, let’s get into this thing: Broke Again begins with a ripper of an intro track, “Rise Up”. The song is a politically conscious jam that fluctuates between slow, rocksteady skanking and mid-tempo punk rock. BtSK changes up rhythms a ton on the album so this is a great track to prepare you for what’s to come. The second track, “Chemical Reaction”, is easily my favorite on the album. “We will not ignore what we cannot afford” is the pre chorus, building over time into one of the sickest sounding horn solos I’ve heard in a while. The horns on this album really go all out, providing nice rhythm and melody at respective times, but also blare wildly and really show the passion of everything going on the songs.
“Brain Pollution” comes next; a solid song interspersed with distorted guitar that really adds to the song. The song clocks in at just over two minutes- perfectly timed for the repetitive style of the song. “Emoticons” is another stand out track on the album. The song is a jab at people going out and not really communicating with each other; just staring at their phones the whole time. The song begins with a sort of circus-like feel. The singer singing about being an introvert and not wanting to go out to get food; we’ve all been there. The song then really kicks into a nice quick-paced skank ranting against people constantly being on their phones, online, and the like. I first listened to this album on my phone so shut up, BtSK. Just kidding.
The album continues through great and to-the- point ska songs arriving eventually on “One Point Twenty What?!”, an ode to Back to the Future. This song breaks into slower hardcore territory throughout, featuring a great breakdown with gang vocals chanting, “Great Scott! That’s some heavy shit, Doc.” It is, Marty, and this song is some heavy shit too.
Each song on the album has a great flow to the next, which is something that bands tend to not really do anymore. Each song is perfect in rhythm to where you can play it totally out of order and it would sound great every time. It’s definitely a shuffle-worthy album, but not in the way where it gets boring because everything sounds the same. All the songs are ska songs, but each has their little intricacies and parts that totally let them stand alone, especially once you begin to get the words down and start to dance and sing along. I am definitely guilty of blasting this at home and dancing my tiny little heart out numerous times. And I don’t regret it at all.
The album blasts through a couple more songs until we arrive at “M.S.O.T.E”, the finale to the album. We hear much more distorted guitar on the track, which is nicely refreshing, but still has the quintessential off-beat rhythm, clean guitar. It’s a slower, chorus- heavy song biting at slaving away at your job- which every good punk song is built around. It also keeps with the way that I like to envision ska as a whole genre: it at times has something very important to say, but it also likes to just have fun. This album is perfect in that sense. There’s a great mix of politically and socially conscious songs, but they don’t leave out the fun in other tracks. It’s refreshing, on an album in this style, to have lines like, “…there’s no one watching over us” on “Blind Faith” to the next track, “Ruby Crystals” singing about the Transformers. Another thing BtSK gets right is their mix of minor and major switches between and during songs. That’s one thing that falls short sometimes in a lot of ska and ska based music; I don’t need to hear ten songs all in C major or, conversely, ten songs in some minor key. Mix it up.
Overall, this album was a ton of fun. It keeps your interest all the way through, but is also a great album to just put on. I recommend clearing a large surface area; kicking out children, roommates, and/or friends who won’t appreciate ska; putting on your boots and braces; and dance. Seriously. Actually, make your friends/roommates/children listen to it too, and make them dance. The band is equal parts Madness and Mustard Plug (in a good way, shut up) with obvious hardcore influence without becoming skacore. Probably not for fans of Streetlight Manifesto or Reel Big Fish though; you nerds won’t get it. (Get it?)
I give this album 8 out of 10 Operation Ivy patches.
You can catch Beat the Smart Kids again in Chicago on August 14th at Midwest Ska Fest.
Broke Again is available here, and I highly suggest you pick it up pick it up pick it up: