MU330 – Chumps on Parade

5 out of 5

Label: Asian Man Records

Producer: MU330, David Probst

Ah, the glory days of my listenin’ years, when I thought that discs like ‘Chump on Parade’ would end up being indicative of the entire genre of punk ska.  No, it was just fortunate listening order: MU330 were / are a talented group with several distinctive releases, but ‘Chumps’ is up there as a great release, frenziedly zipping through 18 tracks that hits all sides of their niche’s variations without a dull or questionable moment.  The scope and impact of the album reminds me of Slapstick’s 25 song compilation, in the sense that there’s no ramp up to getting used to the band: you’re presented through and through with a group in full stride, every instrument shining and every note sung with gusto.  But ‘Chumps’ even has an edge on that disc because it’s not dated.  Slapstick – though I still get riled up by many of its anthems – is very much a high school angst thing, but Potthast has always had an interesting edge to his lyrics, rarely choosing the safe route topically or going for an easy rhyme.  It still has a sarcastic and sometimes silly bite to it that fits for ‘psycho ska,’ as the group had taken to describing their style at the time, but it’s notably more mature and varied than much of his peers’ writing.  Both this and the music were a giant leap beyond the debut album ‘Press,’ which already showed that the band had promise but is much more firmly rooted in a college sound.  (Whatever that means.)  With this ‘maturity’ in tow, not one song is skippable.  Nothing is just built on one riff or a joke (even tracks that indicate they will be, like “LA”), and nothing stays around for too long to prevent it from staying fresh for all of its 2-4 minutes.

David Probst’s production was also one of those elements I didn’t realize how good I was gettin’ it: to keep the Slapstick comparison going, something that disc doesn’t have is the cleanest sound, though that does add to the effect in a certain way.  But, apparently recorded scattered throughout the rooms of Probst’s house, ‘Chumps’ immediately arrests with its crisp drums and very rich yet distinct guitar.  The balance of Jason Nelson and Dan Potthost’s dual vocals is also perfectly handled, the sense of a ‘mix’ never really coming into play, both given full due as parts of the band.  And there I’ll have to cop to a potentially magic ingredient that separated this disc from others: Jason.  I dig Dan’s vocals, and the majority of the songs and lyrics are his.  But Jason has an incredibly infectious singing style (more traditionally “whiny” punk, perhaps, though he doesn’t use it as such) that’s a perfect counterpoint to Potthast’s more earthy vocals and contributes a certain energy to proceedings immediately that perhaps amped up the playing style as well.

Not that we’re always stuck on “Go”: there’s a sweet blend here, as mentioned, with some laid back tracks like “Nothing’s Allright”, “Cursed”, and its oddball instrumental partner “Cursed Again”.  There’s even flashes of noise genius on the mash-up “The Punisher/Downtown”, which merges two rather different songs with a magic trick of non-music.

So there it be.  It’s a classic from my youth that still holds up today, and not just because of sentimentality.

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