Thursday, August 31, 2017

Record of the Week: The's go ska

“Mothra” b/w “Dream Boy”
Time Bomb Records
Limited to 500 copies

Sometimes I marvel when I consider the multiple intersections of my life with the’s.

My first serious, in-person conversation with Mick Collins was at a’s show at the Magic Stick in Detroit. I was 17, we’d talked on the phone previously about me joining the Dirtbombs, but when talking in person, he asked “Are you in high school? Or college?”

I was in high school, I still got the job.

Five years later, the’s are opening for the Dirtbombs at the Magic Stick at the height of “Woohoo” post-Kill Bill exploitation. A LOT of folks in the crowd who’d never seen the Dirtbombs before and would never see us again. In all honesty, we probably should have been opening for the’s.

Six years after that, the band is in Nashville, not only recording a live show, a Blue Series single AND a Vault single, but also celebrating Third Man’s reissue of their seminal self-titled LP. Still one of my absolute favorite moments in TMR history is hearing them tear through Ralph Nielsen and the Chancellor’s “Scream” in the Blue Room. There’s no truer distillation of said “Back From the Grave” classic song in my book, not even the original. The’s own it.

This is a band that is not of my age, is not from the continent I’m from and can barely speak the only language I am conversant in. By all accounts, we should not be in the same orbit. But we are and I am eternally grateful for it.

I would have a hard time naming a more fully-realized band than the’s. Everything about them feels absolutely perfect. Even their first single, slightly off-brand projecting more of a 50’s greaser juvenile delinquent vibe is still so…them. The impeccably dressed, brimming with style Japanese girl-group approach to American surf, garage and (occasionally) rhythm and blues is valhalla. They exist on their own plane. They have no worthy heirs or imitators. They…be.

I became aware of this single way too long after it was released. Probably a year ago? It sat on my Discogs wantlist, ready, available, for nearly a year. I just couldn’t motivate myself to spend $30-ish on the record. I kept on thinking in the back of my mind “There’s got to be a better way.” And for the record, the’s are a band that I collect HEAVY.  I’ve got approximately seventeen of their 7-inch singles and that’s a LOT for a band of their vintage (and damn-near every one they’ve released).

Not too long ago it came into my mind that I could just ask their Japanese label, Time Bomb, if they wanted to do a trade. DUH. I was able to include a couple of their LPs I hadn’t grabbed as well and it was as smooth a transaction as possible.

The tracks themselves are an interesting veer from their standard, straightforward garage rock approach. “Mothra”, (originally written as the mightily orchestrated theme song to the 1961 Japanese horror movie in the “Godzilla” vein) echoes with shades of 1960’s ska. Now if I’d read someone else saying that about the’s I would immediately mumble “bullshit” under my breath. But when you actually listen to the song, it 100% makes total sense. Just like their foray into traditional Japanese-styled folks songs on their Blue Series single, they’ve made this “ska” approach seem and feel entirely within their wheelhouse.

“Dream Boy”, originally features on the band’s 1996 EP “Bomb the Twist” EP in a more sedate, traditional 50’s R&B doo-wop persuasion. But this song too is presented via the lens of 1960’s ska music. And it’s suited wonderfully.

And now it all makes sense. Taking the pre-existing songs, running them very loosely through a stylistic filter and pairing them together, released in a limited edition of 500 copies through a Japanese record label. Simply beautiful. The continued existence and output of the’s puts a smile eternal on my face. Were they ever cease, I would be truly, truly sad.

P.S. the’s (in that form) is my favorite band name to type. Every one of those periods pounds out of my keyboard like a foot-stomp along to their tunes