5 out of 5
Label: Asian Man Records
Produced by: Jeff Hansell, Mass Giorgini, Phil Bonnet
I certainly accept that nostalgia likely accounts for a certain percentage of one’s music collection. I mean, I suppose you could reason that it accounts for all of it, if we’re talking about direct or indirect influence, but just on a more 1:1 level: oh yeah, that album / cassette / CD you lived and died by is still on your shelf, or maybe revitalized in some digital format. (Or maybe you lived and died by that digital format, you modern person, you.) Such nostalgic listens are generally accompanied by out-loud singings, and maybe reminiscences back to some good or bad points in your teendom that were soundtracked by Band X, Album Y. Different factions of nostalgic fandom exist: self-conscious ones in which maybe you hide that cassette, or try to trump your shame by being overly proud of the same. Maybe you’re all ironic with your appreciation, which could be another form of the latter. But the most ideal setup is when your fandom never really dimmed, or never had a reason to – when that experience has remained relevant and wholly, unironically, unsheepishly enjoyable as the years have gone by.
Asian Man Records’ compilation of most of 90s ska-punk band Slapstick’s material on a single, self-titled CD, is one such experience for me.
Punk and ska music were my formative taste-making music ingredients, and would form the basis for a lot of the stuff I would seek out and inform the various directions into which my collection would expand. Punk and ska combined? It was fate. Asian Man Records was a good one-stop shop for that, and thus: Slapstick.
Everything about this, sonically, was, and still is, in perfect balance: Brendan Kelly’s bleating shouts are just frayed enough; Matt Stamps’ guitar and Rob Kellenberger’s drums just frantic enough; Dan Andrianno’s bass just present and pulsing enough; and the tinny, hissy recording walked the balance between raw and organic, capturing an off-the-cuff vibe that served the group’s bottomless energy best. Song titles like “There’s A Metal Head In The Parking Lot” and “Eighteen” and tales that trawled through some normally shallowly-delivered anti-authority and life-sucks punk tropes should’ve relegated the album’s effectiveness to my teen years, but beyond the heart-pumping intensity of Kelly’s delivery pushing past a lot of those concerns, the lyrics actually edge into territory that allows for self-awareness, and reflection; they’re more tempered than most punk lyrics, meaning I can continue to sing them as I age and consider them reflections on how things were instead of needing to transport myself back to 7th grade to make them work. As to the ska, Slapstick was, first and foremost, punk; the horns and upstrum are fun flourishes, but the focus is on riffage, and speed, but not at the cost of a good tune: I tired of 2-minute long, 3-chord song groups when I didn’t have the patience to differentiate between songs in their catalogues, but all of Slapstick’s 25 tracks – all of them – are instantly recognizable. While the “production” – or perhaps lack thereof – might glitch out at points, the group lucked out: it works in their favor, with the likely limited recording tracks and uneven mastering pumping all the good stuff right to the forefront, breaking down when the group is at the loudest and most emotive, and so sort of playing into it – a feature, not a bug.
There are other ways Slapstick changed me, which have come and gone – I really liked the dude’s hairstyle in the album art, and bought my first spiked bracelet in similar desired mimicry – but listening to the album has been a mainstay; its effect on me and the emotions it elicits have evolved, but are always strong, setting a high bar only my favorite albums can achieve.