This edition of ‘In Defense of the Genre’ takes a look at some of the most essential classic albums in ska-punk, a genre which -- yes, really -- is having a comeback.
Earlier this month, I launched a new column on BrooklynVegan called In Defense of the Genre, where I'll be focusing on music across various, often-maligned subgenres of punk, like pop punk, emo, screamo, post-hardcore, and more. If you missed it, you can read my manifesto for the column (and see my picks for the five best songs of January 2020) here.
Not every edition is gonna be about an entire subgenre -- plenty will be about specific bands or albums or other miscellaneous themes -- but if there was ever a genre that needed defending, it's ska-punk, so it feels right that this first real edition is all about that. Possibly more than pop punk or emo or even nu metal, ska-punk has a pretty bad reputation... pretty much forever. It can't be "cool again" because it was never cool in the first place. It seems like silly music, the songs sound happy, it's punk for band geeks, people are having fun on (and off) stage, people are wearing shorts on stage -- ska-punk has heard it all. And as its defenders probably agree, none of those things are very valid criticisms for writing off an entire style of music. So what if people are having fun? Isn't that sort of... usually the point of music?
The one valid criticism that ska-punk gets is that it's a genre often dominated by white men and ska originated in Jamaica (predating reggae), and I don't mean to overlook or minimize that criticism, but it's also a criticism that's certainly not unique to ska. I think it's fair to be mindful of that but also assess the music for what it is. (It's also worth noting that some prevalent ska-punk bands -- like Rancid, for example -- have used their platform to prop up some of the originators, and while it's a much deeper issue that society even needs white musicians to "prop up" black music, it's presumably better than not using your platform to do that.) Ska-punk also became an entirely different beast than first-wave Jamaican ska and than second-wave 2 Tone ska. 2 Tone bands like The Specials, The Beat, and Madness were adjacent to Clash-style punk, but the kind of third-wave ska-punk we're talking about mostly pulled from American hardcore and skate punk, and it just so happened that that kind of punk fused really well with the upstrokes, horn lines, and rhythms of ska. 2 Tone may have a better reputation, and 2 Tone is great, but when you're in the mood for mile-a-minute ska-punk, 2 Tone doesn't cut it.
And it's a good time to revisit some old ska-punk, because the genre is coming back in a big way. The Interrupters started making it popular again with their hit (yes, hit) "She's Kerosene" in 2018, and they haven't slowed down since. This summer, they'll open that gigantic Green Day/Weezer/Fall Out Boy tour, bringing ska-punk to a stadium near you. The critical acclaim for Jeff Rosenstock's solo material has shined a brighter light on his old ska-punk bands Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb the Music Industry, and Jeff even snuck a little ska-punk into his much-loved album WORRY. on the song "Rainbow." When we once asked Jeff in an interview why he thinks ska gets such a bad rep, he said point blank: "I’ve answered this question in every interview I’ve done, so if you’re reading this, HEY IT’S OK TO LIKE SKA."
Jeff's current era of acclaim positioned him as adjacent to the emo revival, a scene that he's a hugely influential figure in, and we've started to see other modern bands connected to Jeff's inner circle bring ska back too, like Telethon. Their 2017 album The Grand Spontanean was produced by frequent Jeff Rosenstock collaborator Jack Shirley, it featured Jeff's former Bomb the Music Industry bandmate Laura Stevenson and his Antarcticgo Vespucci bandmate Chris Farren, and it also featured Roger Lima of ska-punk vets Less Than Jake. On their followup, 2019's Hard Pop, Telethon went full ska on album closer "Manila" and it totally fit in the context of an otherwise indie-punk album. One of this year's most talked-about indie-emo albums is Floral Tattoo's You Can Never Have a Long Enough Head Start, and I can't be the only one who thinks "Don't Try Things" sounds like Keasbey Nights-era Catch 22. And who could forget about Skatune Network, the one-person-band of Jeremy Hunter (who also now plays in We Are The Union). Jeremy's YouTube channel of ska covers has gone viral, but it's not just a joke. They teamed up with indie/emo label Counter Intuitive Records and released an album with ska covers of some of the most currently buzzed-about indie-emo bands, like Oso Oso, Prince Daddy & the Hyena, Retirement Party, Kississippi, Nervous Dater, Graduating Life and more. It's not just for kicks; Jeremy does it out of a genuine love for ska and there's mutual appreciation between Skatune Network and the bands on that covers comp.
And lot of the great ska-punk bands have stayed active over the years, but as with any genre comeback, ska-punk's renewed relevance has also coincided with some reunions, like The Suicide Machines, who just announced their first album in 15 years led by the single "Awkward Always," which I included as one of the five best songs of January. And I'm not alone; "Awkward Always" has been getting received really well.
So to prepare you for the impending ska-punk revival, I've put together a list of 12 essential, classic albums from the peak ska-punk era, which mostly was the '90s but really started in the late '80s and stretched into the early 2000s as well. This list is ska-punk, so that means it doesn't include third-wave stuff that isn't really "punk" like The Slackers or The Toasters or Hepcat or No Doubt or Fishbone. (Well, Fishbone is obviously punk af, but they're also more funk metal than ska-punk.) It's also just 12 albums, so if your favorite ska-punk album isn't here, don't get too mad at me but go ahead and leave it in the comments. And at the end of the list, I included five current songs (past couple years) from new ska-punk bands (formed after the mid 2000s) that prove ska-punk is alive and well.
Read on for my list, in chronological order...
Operation Ivy - Energy (1989)
Ska-punk often gets accused of being too lighthearted or jovial, but Operation Ivy's genuinely badass Energy is the genre's first true classic album, and there's nothing lighthearted or jovial about it. Just in case you're unfamiliar, Energy is the first and only album Op Ivy released before breaking up, and though the band only existed for two years, their legacy still hasn't stopped growing. Tim "Lint" Armstrong and Matt Freeman went on to get very famous in Rancid, Op Ivy's former Lookout! Records labelmates Green Day have since brought their well-known cover of Op Ivy's "Knowledge" to hundreds of thousands of people who never stepped foot inside 924 Gilman, and Op Ivy's influence has lived on through approximately every single ska-punk band ever. And over 30 years later, Energy sounds as fresh as ever. It bridged the gap between the gritty hardcore of the early '80s and all the massive pop punk and ska-punk bands of the '90s, and it retains the unique ability of being accessible to fans of both camps. Singer Jesse Michaels (later of Common Rider and then the severely underrated Classics of Love) sounds like he's singing with nails in his throat, the recording quality is rough as sandpaper, and the DGAF attitude is as reflected in the no-bullshit lyrics as it is in the overall sound of the record. In the words of Drake, it ain't about who did it first, it's about who did it right. But sometimes, as in the case of Operation Ivy, those people are one and the same.
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Don't Know How to Party (1993)
I stand by giving Op Ivy the title of first and best, but if any band has the right to challenge them for the throne, it's The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. On the opposite side of the country, the Bosstones released their debut album Devil's Night Out the same year as Energy, and you can really credit those two albums for spearheading the ska-punk boom of the following decade. But while Op Ivy quickly broke up, the Bosstones kinda became the Bad Religion of ska-punk, lifers who helped create the genre, helped bring it to the mainstream, and stayed consistent as new generations of bands came and went. I mean, Dicky Barrett sang on The '59 Sound. These guys are in it for life.
Devil's Night Out helped usher in the ska-punk genre, and a few years later the Bosstones would be among the bands bringing it to the masses, thanks to their cameo in Clueless and their 1997 mainstream breakthrough Let's Face It (and its big single "the Impression That I Get"). But right smack in the middle of those things came their 1993 major label debut Don't Know How to Party, which found the sweet spot between their punk (and metal) roots and the radio-friendly band they'd become. And, for my money, it's their best record. It's home to "Someday I Suppose," which they play during their Clueless cameo and which proved they had as many pop songwriting chops in their arsenal as punk and metal riffs. It's not just as good a pop song as the Bosstones' later, higher-charting singles; it's better. And it's not alone on Don't Know How to Party. The title track and "Almost Anything Goes" proved the pop smarts of "Someday I Suppose" were no fluke, and hinted at the big breakthrough the band would soon have. At the same time, the Headbanger's Ball-worthy "Last Dead Mouse" and the thrashy "A Man Without" keep Don't Know How to Party separate from the tamer bands that the Bosstones influenced. Not to mention, Bad Brains' Darryl Jenifer guests on this record, so it's got punk cred just for that. It's the best of both worlds.
Citizen Fish - Flinch (1994)
While the UK was having its 2 Tone movement in the early '80s, Dick Lucas and other future members of Citizen Fish were making raw anarcho-punk with Subhumans that took more after Crass than after the milder punk that 2 Tone was adjacent to. And after Subhumans' 1985 breakup, they morphed into the more ska-tinged Culture Shock, who then called it quits in '89 and morphed into Citizen Fish the following year, just as the ska-punk wave was starting to crest. Because of Citizen Fish's rawer punk roots and Dick Lucas' gnarled delivery, Citizen Fish fit right in with the ska-punk bands that were taking off at the time, and their street punk mindset and anarchic politics brought a darker side to ska-punk that would later be further explored by bands like Leftover Crack (more on them soon), who Citizen Fish actually went on to release a split with in 2007. Dick Lucas is a true lifer (just last year, Subhumans released their first album in 12 years and it's genuinely great) and it was tough to pick just one Citizen Fish album for this list, but it's hard to go wrong with Flinch. It was released in 1994, just as ska-punk was starting to explode and it's a little more developed than the CF albums before it, but Citizen Fish still sound like a band with something to prove on it. Its upstrokes and horn lines gave it a cleaner, more melodic, more upbeat side than classic Subhumans, but Dick remained as nasty in his delivery and as unflinching in his message as ever. The anarchy symbol in punk started to go mainstream in the '90s, but here was a band whose members had helped define the first wave of anarcho-punk making that music just a little more palatable for a new generation and a wider audience without sacrificing their intensity or bothering with all the silly fashion.
Voodoo Glow Skulls - Firme (1995)
Presumably taking notes from Fishbone and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Southern California's Voodoo Glow Skulls threw a little metal riffage into their ska-punk formula, but much more so than either of those bands, they were also tied to mile-a-minute hardcore. A lot of bands earn the "ska-core" tag due to vocals, but more than most, Voodoo Glow Skulls' rhythm section earn it too. Between their heart-racing speed and Frank Casillas' burly bark, they're one of the loudest, fastest bands on this list. They're also -- as they began fully embracing on their 1995 sophomore LP and Epitaph debut Firme, which was released in both English and Spanish -- true to their Latin, Mexican, and Spanish roots, and it remains important that they brought that to a genre that was dominated by white people. Firme perfected the sound that Voodoo Glow Skulls would continue to hone for the rest of their career, and as good as some of their later stuff is, Firme remains some of their freshest sounding material. Ska-punk could often be light and breezy, but Firme is dark, heavy, and claustrophobic. It's a record that spends the bulk of its time jackhammering away at your eardrums, and somehow - thanks in part to Voodoo Glow Skulls' inventive horn/guitar interplay and Frank's percussive vocal runs -- it sneaks a whole bunch of addictive melodies into your brain too.
The Suicide Machines - Destruction by Definition (1996)
Like the Voodoo Glow Skulls, Detroit's Suicide Machines made ska-punk that leaned punk and hardcore, but instead of going thick, dark, and heavy, TSM favored the tinnier sounds of early hardcore. Their 1996 debut album Destruction by Definition ends with a ska cover of Minor Threat's "I Don't Wanna Hear It," which is both an awesome cover and a good metaphor for what the original songs sound like. The Suicide Machines started hitting even harder over time, eventually building up to the more beastly sounds of their George W. Bush-era album War Profiteering Is Killing Us All, but Destruction by Definition is the album that started it all, it's classic Suicide Machines, and it's also the sound they returned to on their new comeback single, so if you gotta go with just one, this is always the one. This record is great because it's got the intimidatingly cool punk side that a lot of ska-punk lacks, but it also fully embraces just the right amount of the cheerier side that makes ska-punk so fun. It's got it all -- the bright melodies, the gang vocals, the horns, the organs, the skank-inducing rhythms -- but it's also got roaring screams, razor-sharp power chords, and mosh-inducing rhythms too. It's less a fusion of ska and hardcore and more a record that flips between ska and hardcore at the drop of a hat, without ever losing focus. These guys embraced a ton of familiar sounds but always managed to stand out from the pack, and they wrote songs with real lasting power. It's no wonder their comeback is already going over so well.
Less Than Jake - Losing Streak (1996)
As far as ska-punk bands not being taken seriously goes, it's not too surprising that a band called "Less Than Jake" who are obsessed with Pez and have a goofy mascot aren't exactly considered the coolest band around. But beneath the often-silly exterior lies a lifer band with an arsenal of great songs, many of which make up their still-awesome 1996 album, Losing Streak. Losing Streak was their sophomore album and Capitol Records debut (following their debut album Pezcore, released a year earlier on Mike Park's pre-Asian Man Records label Dill Records, and featuring re-recordings of two songs from that album), and it remains their most seminal album. They tightened up their sound from the promising Pezcore but had not yet gone in the more polished-sounding direction as some of their later albums, and it's the perfect middle ground. As much as they were obviously ska, LTJ were also just a great skate punk band, and the raw but sharp-sounding Losing Streak is as good a skate punk record as '90s classics like Punk In Drublic or Dude Ranch. Like those records, Losing Streak is scrappy and distorted and zips by at laser speed, but it's also full of great pop songs. With two lead vocalists (Chris Demakes and Roger Lima) who have insane chemistry and can trade lines, call and respond, overlap with each other, and harmonize, Losing Streak is packed to the gills with a kind of rich melodic work that you don't always hear in snotty punk rock. They're also great storytellers, and -- hailing from from the same Gainesville Rock City that birthed Against Me!, Hot Water Music, and The Fest -- LTJ had a sense of small town boredom and apathy that really came alive in their songs. Not saying it's Shakespeare or anything, but the imagery in the lyrics is as vivid as the melodies are catchy. Listening to Losing Streak feels like peering into a world of drug deals, liquor stores, and fights on street corners, all told by a protagonist that's drunk on self-doubt. Not necessarily what you'd expect from a band with a silly name and a Pez obsession.
Slapstick - Slapstick (1997)
Before Brendan Kelly formed The Lawrence Arms and Dan Andriano joined Alkaline Trio (and before they met back up in The Falcon), they both played in the short-lived Chicago ska-punk band Slapstick, who released one album (1995's Lookit!) on Dill Records and two EPs, and who had six songs recorded for an aborted sophomore album before calling it quits in 1996. Those six songs and all their others ended up on this self-titled compilation, released the year after Slapstick broke up, and this comp offers more than just a look at two famous musicians' early band. It's one of the best ska-punk records of the '90s, period. Slapstick's lineup also included trombone player Peter Anna (who went on to play in Less Than Jake from 1998 to 2001), and you can retroactively describe them as sounding like "The Lawrence Arms meets Less Than Jake" and not be too far off the mark. Brendan Kelly's iconic rasp was already fully developed in Slapstick, which gave them an edge that was closer to Op Ivy and the Bosstones than the shinier ska bands that were emerging by the mid/late '90s, but their knack for major key melodies and triumphant horn lines (especially on the six newer songs) made them just as catchy as any of the more popular bands of the era. Obviously Brendan Kelly and Dan Andriano both went on to have very fine careers, but if Slapstick never broke up, I wouldn't be surprised if they ended up getting a lot bigger. Brendan's songwriting was already as strong in this earlier, more underrated band as it was on the much more widely-loved Lawrence Arms classics that were soon to come.
(For some more full circle/fun fact connections, Alkaline Trio's drummer for the past 19 years has been Derek Grant, who was The Suicide Machines' drummer on Destruction by Definition.)
Catch 22 - Keasbey Nights (1998)
Just months after East Brunswick, NJ's Catch 22 released their 1998 debut album Keasbey Nights (on Victory Records, a label then primarily known for metalcore), frontman Tomas Kalnoky and bassist Josh Ansley left the band, soon to be followed by trombonist James Egan. Catch 22 started shuffling around their lineup, and eventually Tomas, Josh, and James formed Streetlight Manifesto (who re-recorded their own version of Keasbey Nights in 2006). Both bands went on to do worthwhile stuff, but nothing ever captured the magic of the original, eternally great Keasbey Nights. At the risk of sounding too hyperbolic, this album is like the true heir to Operation Ivy's throne. Like that band, Keasbey Nights sounds thin and scratchy and rough around the edges, but it's perfect the way it is. And like Op Ivy, Keasbey Nights shows off a true love and understanding of ska, while also sticking to a true punk mentality. The bands on this list all found various ways to bring ska and punk together; Keasbey Nights fused them to the point where the lines between them ceased to exist.
The rhythms were rooted in ska more often than not, but the speed was full-on punk. Keasbey Nights is such a fast record that it has several songs where it sounds like Tomas and his bandmates can hardly finish their sentences, but everything always sounds intentional and under control. It's dizzying to try to keep up with them, but the opposite of inaccessible. Tomas packs an insane amount of hooks into these songs; I don't even know if the album technically has a "single" but it feels like a greatest hits. Nearly every track on Keasbey Nights is a stone-cold ska-punk classic, and the album flows brilliantly and never suffers from filler. Sometimes liking ska-punk requires you to embrace a little cheese or a little '90s datedness, but there's nothing cheesy or dated about this near-perfect record.
Rancid - Life Won't Wait (1998)
The best Rancid album is 1995's ...And Out Come the Wolves -- home to ska-punk classics like "Time Bomb" and "Old Friend" -- but the most ska Rancid album is Life Won't Wait, so that's the one that makes this list. Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman helped create third wave/ska-punk as we know it in Operation Ivy, but Life Won't Wait was a love letter to first-wave ska, reggae, rocksteady, 2 Tone, and just about every other type of music that was somewhere in Rancid's DNA. The album featured veteran Jamaican reggae musician Buju Banton alongside members of The Specials, The Slackers, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and more (it also featured members of Green Day, Agnostic Front, and the Ramones), and it saw Rancid utilizing organ, steel drums, horns, blues harmonica, and more to create the most real-deal ska songs of their career. Songs like the title track and "Wrongful Suspicion" are much more in the "traditional" ska realm than just about every other album on this list, but Rancid are so punk to their core than even the parts recorded in Jamaica are dripping in the sweat of 924 Gilman. It's also not even accurate to just describe Life Won't Wait as Rancid's traditional ska/reggae album; songs like "Bloodclot" and "1998" are among the best punk songs in their discography and the lyrics of "Wrongful Suspicion" shout out a slew of hardcore and punk (and ska) bands that Rancid love. It's by far the most unique and ambitious album that Rancid ever made and one of the most unique and ambitious albums to come out of ska-punk in general.
Choking Victim - No Gods, No Managers (1999)
As mentioned earlier when talking about Citizen Fish, their anarcho-punk/ska blend was a clear influence on bands like NYC's Leftover Crack, who Citizen Fish eventually released a split with in 2007. But before Stza formed Leftover Crack, he was a member of Choking Victim, who released their sole album No Gods, No Managers on Tim Armstrong's Hellcat Records in 1999, after they had already broken up. There were other ska bands who favored a raw, dark, punk aesthetic, but Choking Victim lived and breathed it. They led their career with uncompromising politics, they literally lived in a squat house, and their music sounded as grimy as the poverty-stricken 1990s Lower East Side that informed it. Once you know their story and their ethos, it's not too surprising to learn that No Gods, No Managers is the aural equivalent of sticking a middle finger up at the government, society, capitalism, and the music industry, but what's sort of surprising is how tuneful Choking Victim's songs are. No Gods, No Managers isn't just about the message and the image; Choking Victim put just as much care into coming up with really good melodies, even if sometimes they sing those melodies like they've got gravel in their throats.
Leftover Crack - Fuck World Trade (2004)
Moving right along to Stza's next band. Leftover Crack (whose lineup also included Choking Victim's Ezra Kire until 2009) continued very much in the same realm as Choking Victim, both lyrically and musically, but they also did things their previous band didn't do -- especially on this album -- and they weren’t afraid to bring their sound and message to wider audiences. By their 2004 sophomore LP Fuck World Trade (named after a Choking Victim lyric but also referencing Leftover Crack's 2001 debut album Mediocre Generica coming out on 9/11), they had recruited Brad Logan of F-Minus on guitar, linked up with Steve Albini to record the album, signed to Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles to release it, and brought in guest appearances from members of longtime associates The World/Inferno Friendship Society, as well as from Anti-Flag, who shared a lot of Leftover Crack's beliefs and whose popularity presumably helped turn a few new people on to Leftover Crack. Like Choking Victim, much of Fuck World Trade is a raw, grimy, anarcho-punk/ska blend with a surprising amount of tunefulness, but it also covered some other ground. "Soon We'll Be Dead" (the song with World/Inferno) is a campfire folk song, while "Operation: M.O.V.E." has an obvious black metal influence... not something you hear everyday in ska-punk.
The Arrogant Sons of Bitches - Three Cheers for Disappointment (2006)
Before Jeff Rosenstock became an acclaimed solo artist and before he led the ska/punk/indie/pop/etc collective Bomb the Music Industry, he fronted the ska-punk band The Arrogant Sons of Bitches. ASOB was already starting to fizzle out by the mid-2000s, and Jeff had begun dedicating his time to BTMI, but they eventually managed to finally finish and release one last album, Three Cheers for Disappointment, which had been in the making for about five years. And thank god they finally finished it, because it's one of the best albums Jeff ever made. If you're someone who got into Jeff Rosenstock more recently through his solo work and you're wondering where else in his huge back catalog to start exploring, this album wouldn't be a bad place to start. As more of a punk record than most of Bomb the Music Industry's stuff, it's more similar to his current solo work than BTMI is. And as far as high-speed ska-punk goes, ASOB mastered it as well as Op Ivy, The Suicide Machines, Catch-22, or any of the other greats in this style. Like those bands, it's undeniably and unapologetically ska, but it's very much a punk and sometimes even hardcore record. Like Catch-22, ASOB always seem to be playing faster than they should be, but always sound impossibly tight. Like Op Ivy and The Suicide Machines, there are times ASOB are pulling directly from early '80s hardcore, but they always make it work within the context of fun, catchy, upbeat ska songs. And Jeff Rosenstock may have only recently started to get critical acclaim for his lyrical wit, infectious melodies, and explosive delivery, but he had all of that in spades as far back as this record. Its reputation might've been hindered by how long it took to release (2006 wasn't a very good year to put out a ska record), but most who hear it agree: it rivals just about anything from ska-punk's '90s heyday.
Three Cheers for Disappointment on red vinyl and more Jeff Rosenstock records are available now in the BrooklynVegan store.
FIVE GREAT SONGS FROM THE CURRENT SKA-PUNK REVIVAL
Diving back into the classics is always fun, but ska-punk is back and here's five great songs that prove it:
The Interrupters - "She's Kerosene"
This is really the song that started the whole revival. It was the lead single off The Interrupters' 2018 album Fight the Good Fight, and it became an actual alternative rock hit in an era where you just don't see ska-punk bands on the charts. Like the rest of the album, Tim Armstrong produced it and it's got strong ...And Out Come the Wolves vibes, but The Interrupters make it their own, and "She's Kerosene" is catchier than anything Rancid have done since "Fall Back Down."
The Bar Stool Preachers - "Choose My Friends" (ft. Aimee Interrupter)
The Interrupters aren't just spearheading the ska-punk revival with their own music; they're also taking other promising new ska bands under their wing like UK band The Bar Stool Preachers, whose great 2018 single "Choose My Friends" is a duet with Aimee Interrupter. It's also very much from the Tim Armstrong school of ska-punk with a hook that I bet Tim or Aimee or anyone would've loved to have had for themselves.
We Are The Union - "A Better Home"
We Are The Union have actually been around since 2007, but for their 2018 album Self Care, they recruited Skatune Network's Jeremy Hunter (who was apparently already a big fan), and lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Reed Wolcott says that Jeremy revitalized the band and wrote most of the horn lines on Self Care, and it's clear from a song like "A Better Home" that Jeremy's horn lines are no small part of what makes this record so enjoyable. With Jeremy's big, bright horn arrangements, this one's kinda cut from the Less Than Jake/Slapstick cloth, and it sounds as fresh today as those bands sounded 25 years ago.
Call Me Malcolm - "All My Nameless Friends"
Like The Bar Stool Preachers, Call Me Malcolm hail from the UK, and there's a UK street punk vibe to their sound but they very much embrace poppier American ska-punk and a little melancholic emo too. "All My Nameless Friends" -- off their 2018 album I Was Broken When You Got Here, a concept album about a mental breakdown that features voiceovers from actress Elisabeth Hopper -- takes the familiar "ska song about friends" theme and turns it into something darker.
Telethon - "Manila"
As mentioned in the intro, Telethon -- a new-ish Milwaukee indie-punk band who are like one degree of separation from Jeff Rosenstock -- had flirted with ska tendencies before, but on "Manila," the closing track of their 2019 album Hard Pop, they finally gave in to their desires and wrote a song that starts out indie-punk before going full ska about halfway through. They're still not a "ska band" per se, but considering how good at it they are, maybe they should consider doing more like this.