Monday, January 17, 2005

DB Reviews: Voodoo Glow Skulls - Addiccion, Tradicion, Revolucion

There are a number of different ways to describe Voodoo Glow Skulls’ unique sound. I’ve heard it described as hardcore, ska-punk, and barrio ska-core. The Skulls themselves call it California street music, a “high octane mix of rock, punk, ska, and hardcore.” At its best, there’s a sublime chaos, a controlled anarchy to Voodoo Glow Skulls fueled by the brothers Casillas (Frank the really tall, really bald front man, Eddie on lead guitar, Jorge on bass) and one of the best horn sections in the business (Brodie Johnson and Gabriel Dunn on trumpet, James Hernandez on sax). For fans of aggressive, high-tempo music, there’s a breathless energy to the sound that makes you want to get off your ass and skank, which basically means to dance as quickly and awkwardly as possible, throwing arms and elbows at ridiculous angles. But fun, and great exercise.

There’s been a remarkable consistency to the Skulls’ first six albums. Unfortunately, Addiccion, Tradicion, Revolucion is the first (small) drop-off in Voodoo Glow Skulls’ outstanding catalog. There’s nothing ostensibly glaring about their latest effort, but the letdown comes from a lack of the catchy grooves and hooks that usually allow the potent ska, punk, and hard core cocktail to soar. Without these ingredients, the result is a monotonous hardcore rant that is grating rather than ebullient.

There are some nice touches, however. The album kicks off with a sample from the film A Clockwork Orange. We’re treated to the charming, vicious Alex announcing joyfully, “Come with Uncle and hear all proper. Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited!” It’s a great opening and puts a smile on my face every time I hear it.

“DD Don’t Like Ska” is the one standout song on the album. Frank Casillas affects a doo-wop/Ramones vibe which works extremely well with the high-pitched ska verse—slow-down bang-out choruses. The sparse production and style of this song sound like it could have been one of the better songs off The Band Geek Mafia.” Cochino and Enter the Dragon are songs that sound like standard Voodoo Glow Skulls fare: good, but not great.

In a few places, the Skulls experiment with more traditional ska sounds to modestly successful results. “Smile Now, Pay Later” has a light, whimsical feel to it, a breezy number that feels (and sounds) effortless. This experiment continues with even greater effect on a cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Used to Love Her,” which finally sees the Skulls letting their hair down and having some fun (there’s even a playful solo that sounds mysteriously like the opening riff of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”). A few more albums under their belt and the Skulls will be ready to put out an exceptional album of ska-punk covers with the likes of “Feliz Navidad,” “Little Red Ridin’ Hood,” and “Here Comes the Sun” already in their canon.

It would have been nice if the Skulls allowed this sense of fun to invade other parts of the album as tracks like “Ghettoblaster,” “Mayhem and Murder,” and “We Represent” kind of blend together in a hook-less, groove-less hardcore maelstrom.

In a way, Addiccion, Tradicion, Revolucion proves what a great and unique band Voodoo Glow Skulls is by highlighting the high-quality of the first six albums. Everyone’s allowed a let down once in a while, I suppose. After all, even God, so goes the story, took the seventh day off.

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