It has been a long roller coaster ride for two tone ska music since it broke through into the “westernized” musical spectrum in the late 1970’s. Led most prominently by the Specials and the Clash’s Sandinista!, ska music has maintained a permanent, if waning, position in the popular music landscape. Combining punk rock chords with the roots ska rhythms of the fifties and sixties, two tone and its direct derivatives would see many upswings and downfalls in its popularity over the next thirty years, while materializing such eclectically influential acts as Operation Ivy, Fishbone and the Toasters.
Two tone ska is a genre that is easy to play generically and get away with it. Because of the constraints that are presented by the rhythms that define the genre, it is also a type of music that is incredibly difficult to expound upon in a creative sense. The result of these conditions is a musical body that tends to be bogged down with a carbon copy mentality, devoid of originality or creativity, driving the genre into obscurity, and even worse, irrelevance.
Soapbox Paradox is out to prove that these perimeters are not absolutes.
Instead of taking the lazily easy approach and producing a debut record that simply caters to the small niche ska still possesses, lead singer/songwriter Steve Alberty extends the sound of his group deep into the outer reaches of punk and heavy metal. Drawing on the compatible components of these genres, the band then encapsulates them into a singular pristine body of work that is a mosaic of styling and creative direction, entitled – ironically although perhaps, in a sense, very literally — Adventures in Misadventure.
Call it the Bradley Nowell approach; a method and a belief in the universality of music is the predominate theme of Adventures in Misadventure, Soapbox Paradox’s first independent release. The familiar ska rhythms are present but they are manipulated by a punk rock bent that is inserted and maintained by the distorted and funky technique of bass player Mike Alberty. While keeping very solid time on every track, Mike also uses his instrument to add unique layers to the music not usually present in ska, or even punk for that matter.
Steve Alberty handles the lead vocals and guitar work like a seasoned veteran of the scene, exuding a maturity that defies the undeniable notion that this is the band’s first release. His vocals are easily the most prominent feature on the record, as he rasps out biting lyrics deep from the back of his throat in a classic punk rock sneer, reminiscent of 1980’s L.A. punk.
When necessary Alberty can also sing, which only adds to the range of the group as a whole, and allows Soapbox to take their foot off of the pedal for at least a track or two (see song number five, “Mexico”) throughout the album. This is an option rarely afforded and usually necessary, especially on high energy records of this ilk.
Beneath the surface it becomes evident that it is Alberty’s ax work that is the underlying and driving force which keeps the record constantly in motion. This gives each track its own specific feeling and an exclusive statement of uniqueness and individuality, while still maintaining the general aura of the album that is the signature Soapbox sound.
Soapbox draws heavily on Sublime and their penchant towards actual musicianship, while also looking to obviously strong metal influences. This is especially evident in Steve’s solos which are dispersed, with careful discretion, throughout the record. This is another aspect of Soapbox’s music that truly sets them apart from today’s small and deluded two tone scene. One need only examine the record’s final track, “Sports,” for an ample demonstration of the unusual craftsmanship involved in Mr. Alberty’s guitar work.
The other side to Adventures in Misadventure is the record’s inescapable commercial appeal. In many cases this would seem like a snide commentary on the band’s sound. But here it is a testament to Alberty’s ability to craft a quality hook and insert it among back beats that, because of the genre, are as previously examined, usually limiting.
The lead song on the record entitled “Smack,” is a strong example of a track that possesses an extreme playability that is comparable to a Rancid or Green Day tune; good company for a band that wants their music to find the largest audience possible.
Soapbox does not let up on the second track, driving quickly into the swinging and decadent “Liquor Store.” The track features some tight, jazz influenced drumming by Paradox drummer Jason Kohring. Pounding the skins like a possessed madman on a throwback trip to the Tommy Dorsey big band days, Kohring sets the stage for the eerie, snapping atmosphere that follows. It oozes off of this song like a drunk sliding off a barstool in a 1930’s blind pig. Combined again with Mike Alberty’s thumping bass lines and a strongly structured west coast punk chorus, “Liquor Store” is definitely one of the most interesting, hybrid style tracks on the record
The album definitely hits its most compelling strides with highlights “FUBAR” – by far the catchiest rift Mr. Alberty lays down – and the metal driven, Metallica meets Operation Ivy explosion, “Halloween.” Both tracks display the best musical attributes of each member of a band that plays exceptionally well as a unit. Which is not always the case with many groups, regardless of the skill of the individual musicians.
Alberty’s vocals and the band’s musical offerings display an amazing adaptability to various genres of music, inserting themselves in a particular position to redefine a genre in dire need of a re-imagining. Soapbox Paradox may very well pull back two tone ska from the brink of extinction, if they are able to continue to build upon the exciting framework they have laid down with this debut.
When considering Soapbox Paradox’s Adventures in Misadventure, do not be scared off by the fact that it is technically a ska album. This record has a widespread appeal that, while upsetting some ska purists (do those still exist?), will most definitely appeal to the majority of ska, metal, and punk fans alike. While Paradox is still roving the independent circuit now, this is a band tailored made for your local modern rock radio station.
It’s a good bet you’ll hear them there before too long.