Perhaps the most revealing aspect of a popular music trend dying is that listeners get a chance to see all the bands that did not get involved for the sake of popularity and/or involvement. Ska’s immense popularity in the late 90s spawned so many copycat, trend jumping bands it made it difficult to separate them away from the truly good acts of the genre- many of which plied their trade in the much maligned third wave of ska; a hybrid of punk’s pop veneer and ska’s more traditional roots. Some of the biggest names of the time are either currently on hiatus (Mighty Mighty Bosstones), long gone (Slapstick), or sucking (Less than Jake, Reel Big Fish). Some of the mid tier names, like Buck-O-Nine, and of course, Mustard Plug, didn’t quite achieve some of the bigger accolades their contemporaries did, but seemed to have an underlying quality of longevity and perseverance that the others didn’t have. While Buck-O-Nine briefly flirted with major label stardom, Mustard Plug seemed to remain low key in their marketing approach, but kept their sound and music big.
Mustard Plug remained unfazed as the major label deals disappeared, the music videos stopped playing on MTV, and ska became another passing buzzword in the history of hype and hoopla. Sticking close to Hopeless Records, Mustard Plug have remained true to their sound- keeping their ska roots firmly entrenched amongst their razor sharp punk influences. In an age where histrionics and melodrama rule, In Black And White is auspicious in its upbeat humor, style, and general attitude- and it’s actually really fun! From the opening salvo of the pop/punk infused “Who Benefits?” to the bouncy anthemic nature of “Hit Me! Hit Me!” it’s clear that In Black And White is exactly what it claims to be- a clear and present portrait of ska/punk in its purest, undiluted form.
The album gets a real kick during “Something New,” taking cue from punk brevity the song is In Black And White’s most up tempo effort and its energetic peak. The short burst of energy is coupled nicely with the similar toned “You Can’t Go Back,” a track packing a punch clocking in at under the minute mark. In “Real Rat Bastard,” Mustard Plug turn up the fun with catchy choral sing-a-longs, brassy trumpets, and some good ol’ fashioned “la la la la la la’s” reminding the listener that sometimes it’s all just a little better with a smile on your face. It’s a tone reflective of the album’s overall quality- a strong effort all around that isn’t buoyed by radio single pressure or hype. It is in the end, it sounds just like a good album by talented musicians still playing the kind of music they enjoy.
Trends come and go, just as the bands that populate them do. For fans of ska burdened by the media blitz that followed the genre’s popular revival, it must be infinitely rewarding the know that beneath the gloss, there are still plenty of truly great musicians keen on maintaining a sense of fun and excitement with the urgency and truth. In Black And White won’t bring ska back into the mainstream, but it’s a richly rewarding listen and deserving of praise.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.