What was the pivotal point for third wave ska? An issue indeed worthy of lengthy debate. The Hollywood incorporation of ska music in film, the rise of a pop-ish sound in ska music, the coming of an entire wave of musicians playing like-minded music all at once, among other things are all contributing factors to the rise in ska’s popularity and its ultimate plateau and decline. However, the mid-90s (1995 to 1998 specifically) were undoubtedly the peak of that popularity. Preceding this horn-heavy, pop-ish offbeat punk sound known to most as third wave ska was the split 7” of two generally same-membered bands, the Skolars and Telegraph.
This piece of plastic only has four tracks, yet in those four tracks is the basic blueprint for third wave ska, albeit with a very Detroit sound. There is unbelievable power and influence in these four songs; where better has the simplistic anger and angst of punk rock been joined in marriage with the optimistic, complex, offbeat nature of ska music? The answer, is hardly anywhere.
“Thanks”, the opening track and final track written by the Skolars, is one of the best ska songs ever written. All-encompassing in both genre’s natures, the beat is punky, yet offbeat, nigh danceable. Where did this sound come from? It was new and fresh. Within was too every single part of a good ska song: Less gruff and more sing-a-long style of vocals, an offbeat-accented guitar with a clean sound, pervasive and steady horn lines, a short horn solo, and a breakdown of sorts, although the breakdown was more pop-influenced than punk-influenced. The music has a very somber, somewhat sad tone, but it’s a piece of art. Not since my first ska show and my experiences with ska stalwarts Treehouse Rivals have I been more emotionally moved by a ska song. Following this was a cover of the song ‘Razors’, for which the Skolars do much justice. It’s hard to escape the sad, somber tone with which the band plays, but it seems bittersweet. It is sad, but optimistic, akin to an end with a concurrent new beginning, an excellent, non-generic song to cover; well done.
Flipping the record over, the bitterness of the Skolars sound end and the happier, sweeter sound of Telegraph begins. “Quit Your Band” is a heavier emphasis on the pop tones in third wave ska music, which Telegraph eventually followed more strongly as time went on. Still, the song is a step above almost all third wave; the reassuring sound of Jeff Sanguis’ voice is what trumps the whiny, sarcastic and nasally voices of their peers. Finishing the record is “Open 24 Hours”, a horn-happy track of the prototype for third wave ska’s sound. While still clean, there exists an omniscient sound, be it subliminal or overt, of real Detroit grit. Although other, more famous bands had big record label financial support, Telegraph manages to outdo their competitors with less at their disposal (the horns are more unified, giving rise to the wall or horns idea perfected by THR) and greater swagger in their step.
At first listen, for an experienced listener of ska, this is just another fine piece of third wave. However, given the time period, financial status, and completeness of the record, there has not been such a fine piece of third wave ska released yet. The record seems only to improve with each passing listen. This record alone makes it worth buying a $100 USB turntable. I may need a new needle when I’m through with this record. -Aunty Social