Unless they’re called Less Than Jake or have an album called Hello Rockview, there’s very little chance that any ska-punk bands will make it in 2016. But even while it’s not exactly cool anymore, there’s still a place for the genre – Reel Big Fish and Goldfinger have certainly found theirs with heritage slots at Slam Dunk every year. And with the summer sun finally raising its head, it seems like the ideal time for the ska-punk bands to come out of hibernation and bust out the horn-embellished soundtrack. That seems to have been the mindset of The Hostiles, and though their new album Last Call is nowhere near the genre’s zenith, it satisfies a demand, and at the very least it does that well.
Musically, Last Call plays out in a way that incorporates the most noteworthy elements of ska-punk’s big players that help them stand out. There’s an extra wad of spit that gives The Mighty Mighty Bosstones a bit more bite, Mad Caddies’ habit of throwing in outer-genre influences to mix up the formula, and throughout, vocalist Josh Barron does his best impression of Reel Big Fish’s Aaron Barrett. Amidst this, the influences of an American frontman and bassist on a Scottish instrumental section can be felt throughout – guitars are brought further to the fore with a more overcast, weightier feel, briefly being broken up by sporadic rays of sunshine. Obviously this is no sort of genre-bending revelation (as easy-going as ska-punk is, it can be unforgivingly rigid in terms of formula), but it’s a nice change of pace from the perennially sunny SoCal fare to something a bit more real.
Regardless of limitations though, The Hostiles push for some degree of eclecticism across Last Call with the final results being more commendable than successful on a wider scale. Because, for all their intentions, The Hostiles still have some work to do when it comes to nailing a more diverse sound. The album bookends of an intro and the title track feel horribly stodgy with the latter’s bordering on groove metal sounding entirely misplaced, while the messy You Liar sounds sluggish and lumpen with screams thrown into the mix that serve no discernible purpose. And while tracks like Spend My Life and Late Nights are more forgettable than outright awful with their recycling of horn lines, there’s an unavoidably erratic feel in terms of quality that runs from the album, not to mention that it’s far too long at fourteen tracks of more or less the same fare.
But Last Call has far more hits overall than it has misses. Its more rough-around-the-edges production job offers a bit more grit than traditional ska-punk, and while this can muddy up the guitar lines occasionally, there’s more of a depth injected into a sound renowned for being largely lightweight and throwaway. There’s still a fun factor present though – Night Out embraces the Stateside permutation of the genre in its rich horns and vocals overflowing with personality, and So I Wonder and Released From Captivity have a real spring thanks to the almost rapped vocal quality. It’s enjoyable, but never devolves into stupidity in the way that bands like Reel Big Fish sometimes can, adding some much needed dignity into a genre often perceived as nothing more shorts-clad man-children messing around with trumpets.
Still, while Last Call is undoubtedly a successfully fresh take on a notoriously stagnant genre, there’s still a bit of work to be done here for The Hostiles to be a truly great band. The basics are there, but when trying to hit a level of eclecticism that the likes of Mad Caddies and Sonic Boom Six are much more proficient at, the stumbling is audible. It’s divisive in nature for sure, but in its better moments, The Hostiles offer a solid alternative to the norm that just might last beyond the end of summer.
For fans of: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Streetlight Manifesto, Mr. Skannotto
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Last Call’ by The Hostiles is released on 15th July on Bubble Tea Records.