Ska isn’t exactly dead, but it’s certainly been in critical condition on heavy life support for a number of years now. Just when you start thinking it might be time to pull the plug, it shows signs of life letting you know that it’s still kicking. The latest signs of life are from NJ’s Hub City Stompers with their 2018 release of Hater’s Dozen.
Now if you read this site regularly you’ll know I’m a long time fan of the band, after first seeing them play a church basement in Trenton back in 2004 (I think) and they’ve been releasing solid albums ever since, with their 5th full length being no exception.
Self acclaimed “ska for people who hate ska”, Hub City Stompers (which is the brain child of vocalist Travis aka Rev. Sinister of the infamous Inspecter 7) mixes elements of ska, punk, and hardcore that is irreverent, sardonic, and pissed all while remaining incredibly catchy. Take the song “Mr. Mcfeely” as a perfect example that pretty much sums up the band, a song that is a catchy, light-hearted traditional ska song until you listen to the lyrics which is about beating the shit out of a predator.
While you’ll find plenty of classic HCS on this album with songs like opener “Hub City Stomp” and “Phantom”, the band never shied away from experimenting a bit. “Keepers” blends ska with a pop-punk hook which could have easily been a radio single if this was 1997, yet never treads into the overly poppy category. “Voice” has guitarist Rod Gorgeous of the band doing lead vocal duties, and holy shit, he’s actually a really talented singer.
“Bring Back The Dorks” makes fun of the formulaic lyrics of the whole rocksteady ska/motown revival bands with a chorus of “and I hope that you’re ready for my pretentious hipster rocksteady tonight” and somehow nail the whole “hipster rocksteady” sound better than half the bands that actually play it.
As with previous albums, saxophonist Jenny Whiskey has a couple of songs on the album as well where she takes over vocal duties. Both “What She’s Got” and “Hard Place To Be” are solid ska numbers featuring the talented singer.
The only minor criticism I have of the album is the placement of two songs in the middle: “Father’s Day” and “Distance Waters” kill the momentum of Hater’s Dozen a bit. They’re both solid songs, with “Distance Waters” featuring Pilfers singer Coolie Ranx, but I feel like they may have been better served towards the end of the album with both songs clocking in near 6 minutes each. Still, this is a pretty minor criticism on a very solid album.
If you’re a ska fan in any way shape or form (and there’s not many of us these days), definitely give Hater’s Dozen a listen. It’s been the perfect soundtrack to the summer and I’ve been listening to it a lot as of late. Hub City Stompers are still cranking out solid new albums and don’t show any sign of slowing down any time soon.