Upbeat without forcing the party, Berkeley, California’s ska-veterans The Uptones return with their first studio album in decades, nailing down a bottom end that cements the groove with horns that reach for the stratosphere. The years have betrayed them none. Four original members augmented by an additional fantastic four, the eight-piece cruise with neither nostalgia nor a rusted gear. Initially, the studio might not seem the place to capture a definitive live act – their most noted_ release being the concert album The Uptones Live!! 924 Gilman – but one spin of “Ridiculous” and its spirited bleeps and yelps and it’s obvious this band will produce for a party of one if it must. (“Too Much Pressure” is credited as “Recorded Live at iMusicast” in 2005.) The added fidelity a genuine recording studio provides means bassist Bennie Wood and drummer Tim Carter aren’t left in the sonic dust. With three horn players – trombone, trumpet and tenor sax, for those at home keeping score – the blare is most obviously attention getting, but Eric Din’s vocals lead the troops with the same spirited play that made the Clash sound like revolutionaries.
Virtuostic without enslaving itself to technique and incorporating elements of punk, jazz, ska and reggae, it’s obvious how and why the Uptones became a major influence on the ‘90s ska-punk scene that followed them out of the Berkeley ghetto. But while Operation Ivy, Rancid, Sublime, Green Day and countless others sport the group’s influences and inspirations, nothing replicates The Uptones melodic heart. These aren’t just festive jams but terse, tough shards of song. Whether it’s the suspected tenderness of “Not From Here,” the charmed pop life of “I Don’t Know Emilie,” or the instrumentation breakdown of “Radiation Boy” where the band appear to be playing sideways, the Uptones now exist as seasoned pros who never lost their mojo in the grinding machinations of the music business. If anything, the years have made them stronger, more determined to wring life from every rhythm, to deny defeat at every chorus. Long may they skank.
Skankin’ Foolz Unite!
(Fun Fun Fun)