Sunday, February 19, 2012

February 19: The Slackers, "86 The Mayo"

Artist: The Slackers
Song: "86 The Mayo"
Album: Peculiar
Year: 2006

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One of the most exciting aspects of every form of music is the fact that there is always some band or musician who has it in their head to completely go against all preconceived notions of a genre, without sacrificing the musicality of the sound in question.  Whether it is a heavy metal band finding a way to make their sound within non-conventional instrumentation or arrangements, or a punk band using melodies and an upbeat spin, it is often within those who stand apart from the pack where the finest music can be found.  It is with this in mind that one can easily make the case that amongst the myriad of bands that emerged during the ska revival of the 1990's, few stand more impressive than The Slackers.  Even without mentioning their exceptional musical talents, one can see the band as having a maturity and understanding of the genre that is far beyond that of their peers, and as one follows their recorded catalog, it becomes nothing short of stunning to hear the way that they spin the ska style.  It is in their later albums where there is often a darker, far more serious sound than one might expect from the genre, and yet there is no question that these same songs are the bands' most impressive and rewarding.  This can be heard all throughout their 2006 release, Peculiar, and one can quickly understand everything that makes The Slackers so extraordinary within the albums' lead track, "86 The Mayo."

From the moment that "86 The Mayo" begins, it has a mood all its own, as while the roots of the ska sound are completely intact, there is also a tension that cannot be denied.  It is the fact that The Slackers are able to so perfectly execute this seemingly contrasting mood within the music that not only sets the song apart from others, but also shows how far they have come as a band.  At the forefront of the mix is the horn duo of Dave Hillyard and Glen Pine, and their ability to slide across the song gives it a sense of movement that is nothing short of superb.  Yet at the same time, there is a somber, soulful sound within their playing, and they add perfect sonic punctuation all across "86 The Mayo."  Along with this, guitarist Jay Nugent brings the classic "ska riff," and these combined sounds are an ideal tie to the roots of ska, and yet the band have clearly matured to a point where they can put far more sound and emotion into their music.  This is found largely within the rhythm section, as bassist Marcus Geard and drummer Ara Babajian dig a deep, yet unique groove into the song, and their somewhat dry sound gives the song even greater depth.  Yet it is the organ work from Vic Ruggiero that is perhaps the finest aspect of all of "86 The Mayo," as he gives the song a mood and sting that push it far beyond the limits of everything that had been done previously in the genre.  It is the fact that across the entire song, the music has an upbeat feel, and yet the song itself is rather stern which makes this not only a distinctive moment in the genres' history, but also proof of the endless depth of the style.

Along with his fantastic organ work, the vocals from Vic Ruggiero are equally as superb, and one can easily make the case that he is one of the finest vocalists that the genre has ever known.  There is a raw, authentic, and completely honest sound to every song he sings, and "86 The Mayo" represents one of the many instances in his career where his ability as a storyteller and poet are in perfect form.  Balancing the line between singing and speaking, there is a relaxed sound to Ruggiero's voice, and with every line, he pulls the listener in further and further.  At the same time, there is no arguing that "86 The Mayo" represents one of the best lyrics that he has ever penned, and one can read into them in a number of different ways.  Pulling everything from political commentary to religious allusions, Ruggiero brings an intellect and talent in word-play that is rarely heard anymore, and the words he sings enable the song to have absolutely limitless playback ability.  The call for help and the demand for change that one can hear in these words is echoed throughout the entire Peculiar album, and one cannot help but stand in frustrated awe of lines like, "...and if you think the times have been changin', well it's anywhere but here..."  It is the way that he presents each line in such a matter-of-fact way that makes it impossible to ignore his words, and the song easily cements Ruggiero's place as one of the most talented performers of his generation.

The fact of the matter is, any genre title or other classification is instantly limiting to not only what fans expect, but to what the musicians within that genre will attempt to do musically.  Within the world of ska music, there is rarely a song that has a strong, somber tone that is able to keep the more upbeat sound intact, and yet The Slackers prove this is possible all throughout their Peculiar album.  Whether it is the bouncing horns or the funky groove that permeates all across "86 The Mayo," it is truly irresistible, and this serves as proof as to the bands' years of experience in honing their sound and finding the smallest nuances within the music.  Along with this, The Slackers show that there can be tragic happiness in the musical sense, and few other bands have even attempted such a sound, let alone succeeded to this level.  Yet one can see this sound as not all that surprising, as looking back at the bands' entire catalog, one can argue that their previous records have been building up to this sound, and yet that makes the feat in itself no less impressive.  Throughout the album, the band brings some of their most frustrated and defiant lyrics to date, and yet they never lose their ability to deliver these words with anything less than intriguing and engaging results.  Though every song on the album is fantastic, few tracks better represent the unique musical mastery that is The Slackers than what one can hear on their 2006 song, "86 The Mayo"

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