Let's face it (pun intended [where my 3rd wave comrades at?]): ska is not for everyone. We've had an on-and-off affair since I was a teenager, although, it now seems that my love for the genre is here to stay and has been that way since about my mid-20s. I was happy to see one of the other BMN writers had passed this one my way. "Here's a ska-punk project you may like to write about," were the words spoken to me; the words I heard were, "I don't know what to do with this fuckin' thing and I know you like Choking Victim and the 'Bosstones." With a name that parodies one of dad-rock's worst Nirvana-wannabes 3 Doors Down, I take comfort in knowing the members will probably find that entertaining if not humorous.
UK ska-punk outfit 3dbs Down are back after a short 15 year break with their crowdfunded full-length Get Your Retaliation in First. There's more than meets the eye with this one. Before I listen, I read the bio: influences include Rx Bandits, Smashing Pumpkins, and The Beach Boys. I get scared. Then I put the record on, and it all makes sense.
The album opens with a sample from the BBC radio show Bleak Expectations: "You are a man! You feel nothing!" The track, "At My Signal," then goes into a poppy punk tune which explores themes of "cynical optimism" as they aptly put in the pre-chorus. Gang vocals lead us into a Flatliners-esque chorus, letting us know that while our leaders are making horrible decisions against our human interests, "All we can do is keep on living." The song goes into tangential territory with altering keys and tempos, but ultimately finds its way into a singalong set over the intro riff, "good to see you, welcome home." What a great way to open a record. They have personally welcomed me into this experience with a song that has a lot of the tricks you can expect throughout the record without giving away too much.
What follows is 12 more dynamic and thoughtful songs by a talented band who can hang with the best of them. Smashing Pumpkins? Not so much, BUT there are some moments that make subtle nods at the 90s alternative sound like the bridge of the opening track and "Everyone Here is Better Than You." Beach Boys? This band CRUSHES vocal harmonies. The vocals aren't just vocals: they're a whole instrument on their own in this record. In some of the more ska-oriented tracks, the back up harmonies take the place of what other bands may do with horns in regard to melody. I also picked up on a really meta-moment in "Hang in There Man," where the call-and-response vocals to "hang in there, man, until the mirror shows you what you want to see." They alternate, repeating the same lyric, bouncing back and forth like a person standing in front of a mirror but the reflection doesn't quite line up. Ultimately, it ends in harmony assure us that things will come together in the end.
The production is clear and beautiful without sounding over-produced, and while I appreciate all of the musicianship on this record, I need to tip my hat to the bass player: root notes when needed, but can clearly tear it up and tastefully take a walk when the song asks for it. The chrouses are catchy and the songs take a lot of fun musical turns; the organ also makes a couple appearances. I catch a lot of influences in the sound, but it's not derivative. If I hadda slap a FFO sticker on this one: Mad Caddies without the dixieland, Authority Zero, The Interrupters, and Cavalcade-era Flatliners sans the double time punk-beat. Great record, comrades.
Check out the first single "Count To A Million" here. The full album is currently only available to buy as part of a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. They have different merch deals and all that fun stuff. Head over there and give these guys some support.
- Eddie Templeton, BMN Contributor