3 out of 5
Label: Asian Man Records
Produced by: Dan Probst, mu330
Sifting through your old ska collection, there’s a disc in the back from mu330: It’s Press, their debut, when they’d made good on local fanfare and gotten on to the this-is-the-place-to-be-for-ska-bands label Asian Man Records. Even though this was a huge deal (for fans) at the time, it doesn’t quite get the rotation classics like Chumps on Parade do, hence its location in the back o’ the pile and with a requisite film of dust. Nostalgia tickles the nose hairs along with that dust, and Press goes back on for a listen.
…The assuredness, in those eons past, that mu330 was primed for bigger things is immediately understandable: for a young band, the group was already tightly in sync, spread across their full ska array of horns and guitar, bass, drums and, of course, dual vocalists. They also had an interestingly fresh spin that somehow seemed completely organic – that is, not forced – and also should be easy to execute but has rarely been duplicated: the group truly combined rock and ska. It’s not ‘skunk;’ it’s not distortion with horns thrown in; and it’s not 2-tone that breaks out with some solos now and then: it’s ‘psycho ska,’ as the band dubbed it, and it’s a very energetic true blend of rocking and skanking. That’s present on Chumps (in an even more amped up style) and the albums beyond – until a turn toward interestingly traditional ska sounds – but it’s also right here, from the very start, confidently performed and immediately catchy.
And then there’s something else that Press has: youth. This is still very much a college band. Opener Hoosier Love shows off Dan Potthast’s penchant for silly, smart charm… and then there’s the callouts to local hotspots that mark this is as something you sing for homegrown fans. And then there’s ‘Stuff, ‘ and ‘Didgits,’ which are the kinda giggly, pseudo-crass type lyrics you’d write as a teen, and the made-for-ramping-up-the-crowd Captain and Safety Boots… The confidence is there; the skills are there; but again: this version of mu330 was still writing and recording for small stages in bars packed with friends. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it prevents the album from having the kind of eye-opening impact their followup would, which interestingly takes a lot of notes from Press but then evolves them just enough to launch the group onto a more cutting edge sound and feel. There might also, then, be something said for co-vocalist John Kavanaugh, only present on this release (from mu330’s on-a-label albums, anyway), and whose presence seems to loom over the more juvenile moments…
Whatever the case, after a spin and some smiles, Press – competent, enjoyable album that it is – finds its way back to the rear of your CD collection, ready to gather dust again while the rest of mu330s catalogue gets its more regular playthroughs.