The Year In Ska & Ska-Punk: Albums, EPs & Singles not to miss from 2020
Ska never went away, but there's more widespread interest for the genre right now than there has been in a while. Nostalgia tends to move in 20-ish year cycles and it's been about two decades since ska's last peak in popularity died down, enough time has passed for the unfair stigma to fade away, and the anti-racism aspect of ska hits hard after four years of having Trump as a president. But it's not just timing; there's an increasingly strong network of bands working hard to show that ska is alive and well, and those bands are making really good music in the process. Ska's roots are of course in Jamaica, but at this point it's a massive global phenomenon, with thriving ska scenes in the US, the UK, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, Australia, and beyond. Most of the best current ska bands strongly embrace the DIY aspect that predated the genre's major label boom in America; they put the politics back at the forefront of the music, rallying not just against racism but also against sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of bigotry; and they show a strong appreciation for the entire history of ska, from its roots in 1950s/60s Jamaica, to the UK's 2 Tone movement in the '70s/'80s, to the emergence of ska-punk in the US in the '90s. Today's best ska bands don't approach the genre as a series of waves, but as one constantly-evolving style of music that still has more room to evolve and move forward.
A ton of good ska and ska-punk records came out in 2020, and I'm not claiming this list is a "best of" (and it admittedly leans US/UK-centric), but if you're looking for a solid batch of great ska albums and EPs that came out this year, I highly recommend the 18 on this list if you haven't heard them already.
Also, none of the music on this list would exist without the massive influence of the legendary Toots Hibbert, who sadly passed away this year. Toots was one of the original ska pioneers and is widely credited with injecting soul into the genre, and his impact is still felt today, not just on ska and reggae but on tons of musicians across several styles of music. Toots also released a new album this year, which we wrote about in our list of reggae albums from 2020. Rest in peace, Toots.
Read on for the list, unranked and in no particular order, followed by a list of of singles by artists who didn't release albums (and hopefully will in 2021). As big of a year that 2020 was for ska, 2021 already seems poised to be an even bigger one.
Albums & EPs
Ska Against Racism
Bad Time Records / Asian Man Records / Ska Punk Daily
In 1998, Mike Park put on the Ska Against Racism tour with the goal of bringing back the anti-racist politics of ska at the height of the genre's mainstream success in America. "I felt like [ska] was becoming so manufactured as this fun wacky circus music and the original politics were gone from the 2 tone movement," Mike told us earlier this year. "The whole 2 tone idea is black and white equality. Did kids even know that?" Now, 22 years later and with the help of Bad Time Records and Ska Punk Daily, the Ska Against Racism name was revived for a new 28-song compilation featuring some of the bands from the original tour (Less Than Jake, Mustard Plug, Five Iron Frenzy, and MU330) alongside other veterans (Tim Armstrong/Jesse Michaels, The Suicide Machines, The Chinkees, Hepcat, Buck O' Nine, Left Alone, Big D and the Kids Table, etc) and a slew of newer bands who are keeping ska alive today (Kill Lincoln, We Are The Union, JER, Catbite, The Best of the Worst, Omnigone, The Skints, The Interrupters, Half Past Two, Bite Me Bambi, etc). It not only connects the established veterans with the new guard and functions as a who's who of the current ska scene, it's also a mission statement for today's ska scene and a declaration of the values that these bands stand for. "Mike [Park] wanted to bring [the politics] back for his generation, and I feel like now we need to make that statement again," Mike Sosinski from Bad Time Records/Kill Lincoln told us. "It's almost like a waypoint that people can look to in time and be like, alright, ska in this generation, this is where we're at, and it's no longer just anti-racism, it's anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia, anti-sexism, it's just acceptance of everything but hate."
The compilation will benefit The Movement for Black Lives, The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, The Alpha Institute, The Conscious Kid, and Black Girls Code in perpetuity, and the anti-racist, anti-bigotry message lies not just in the benefit aspect but also in a lot of these songs. From covers of classic anti-racist ska anthems that remain depressingly still relevant today (Kill Lincoln doing Skankin' Pickle's "David Duke Is Running For President," The Doped Up Dollies doing The Specials' "Racist Friend") to newly-written protest songs (JER's "Breaking News! Local Punk Denies Existence of Systematic Racism," The Best of the Worst's "Illusion of Choice," Omnigone's "Swallow Poison," Mustard Plug's "Unite and Fight," etc), the message of Ska Against Racism goes much deeper than just the album title. And with so many genuinely great songs that are exclusive to this comp, Ska Against Racism is just as essential as the albums by all the bands featured. Comps aren't as popular in the streaming era as they were in the CD, cassette, and vinyl eras, but Ska Against Racism is poised to become one of those scene-defining comps like Mike Park curations Misfits of Ska and Plea For Peace were two decades ago.
Purchase Ska Against Racism for $1 or more at Bandcamp.
Kill Lincoln - Can't Complain
Bad Time Records
A lot of bands try to recreate the sounds of '90s ska-punk, but few get it as right as Kill Lincoln. They lie somewhere in between The Suicide Machines' ska/hardcore crossover and Less Than Jake's euphoric pop hooks, and their new album Can't Complain sounds as fresh in 2020 as Destruction by Definition and Losing Streak did in 1996. (And like Destruction by Definition has a ska cover of Minor Threat, Can't Complain has one of Paint It Black's "Womb Envy," a song that's actually slightly older now than "I Don't Wanna Hear It" was when TSM covered it.) If you're a longtime ska-punk fan, Can't Complain will fill you with warm feelings of nostalgia, but this album succeeds because it goes beyond reminding you of your favorite '90 bands. Kill Lincoln don't approach ska-punk as a faded trend that needs reviving; they approach it as a valid genre of music with something to say right now. And on Can't Complain, Kill Lincoln use their fast-paced, adrenaline-rush-inducing songs to address the state of the world in 2020. It's fun, exhilarating music, but don't ever mistake the bright hooks for a lack of purpose.
Call Me Malcolm - My, Myself and Something Else
Call Me Malcolm have been quietly making some of the most special, unique, ambitious music in the punk underground for a few years now, and with their third album My, Myself and Something Else, they've written their most rewarding music yet. It's sort of a sequel to the UK ska-punk band's excellent 2018 album I Was Broken When You Got Here, a concept album about battling mental health struggles, only this time Call Me Malcolm are looking outwards and discussing dealing with those struggles while living in a world that's filled with mass hatred. Throughout its 15 tracks, My, Myself and Something Else delivers recurring lyrical themes and musical motifs, voiceovers by actors Elisabeth Hopper and James Northcote (the former of whom was also on I Was Broken When You Got Here), and an all-killer batch of ska-punk songs. Call Me Malcolm have mastered the genre as much as the great '90s bands who influenced them -- with vibrant horns, inviting choruses, and boundless energy -- but they don't really sound like any other band in particular. They fuse ska-punk with the darker tones of early 2000s post-hardcore and emo, ending up with a sound that's not entirely out of left field but that's hard to put your finger on. It's fresh, exciting music, and when these songs hit their emotive climaxes, it's downright cathartic.
Bad Operation - Bad Operation
Bad Time Records/Community Records
Bad Operation's members have been heavily involved in various bands in music scenes for over a decade (including Fatter Than Albert, The Flaming Tsunamis, Community Records, PEARS, Dominic Minix Quartet, Solange's touring band, and more), but still, it's impressive to see a new band arrive as fully formed as Bad Operation. From the strong black-and-white aesthetic of their videos, photos, album cover, and logo; to coining their own subgenre (New Tone); to writing a debut album that's unique, fun to listen to, and void of filler; the New Orleans ska band feel like a breath of fresh air not just within ska but within all of guitar-based music. New Tone -- a nod to the late '70s UK genre/record label 2 Tone -- suits this band well. They cite influences from the original wave of Jamaican ska (The Skatalites) to 2 Tone (The Specials) to '90s US ska-punk (The Suicide Machines, Slapstick, The Chinkees), and they meld the past 50 years of ska music into something that honors the past but looks towards the future. They consciously avoid the distorted guitars and screamier vocal style of punk, but they embrace the fire and grit of the New Orleans music scene, making for ska that's loud, raw, and energetic but closer in spirit to the genre's Jamaican roots than to US ska-punk. And New Tone is about more than the sound; "it’s about setting a new tone in the way we occupy public space with our music," trombonist/keyboardist Daniel "D-Ray" Ray recently told us. "Through our upbeat joyous music, we want to create real change within people’s consciousness and actions." That mission statement comes through loud and clear in the music, which puts social justice at the forefront in a real, meaningful way, and which is loaded with choruses that get stuck in your head and rhythms that you can't help but dance to. Bad Operation embody what ska was always about from the start, and they do it in a way that sets its sights on the political/social issues of 2020 and that helps usher in a new sound for a new generation who want a version of ska that they can call their own.
The Suicide Machines - Revolution Spring
Fat Wreck Chords
With an album title like Revolution Spring and the searing indictment of police brutality on opening track "Bully In Blue," you'd think The Suicide Machines wrote this album after witnessing all 50 states protest George Floyd's murder at once in May, but it came out two months before that, and frontman Jason Navarro says the album title is referencing something more personal than it may seem. Still, these veteran ska-punks have been a political band for decades, and having not released an album since the fired-up, Bush-era War Profiteering Is Killing Us All, this was a band who needed to come back and leave their mark on the Trump era. Like The Suicide Machines' '90s classics, Revolution Spring owes as much to real-deal ska as it does to real-deal hardcore, effortlessly dismantling the stigma that '90s ska-punk is too cheerful or too far removed from both ska and punk's roots. The songs are as refreshing and impactful as TSM's classics, and they're among the band's most lyrically intense work, with songs that tackle not just police brutality but also the Flint water crisis, climate change, and more personal topics like the suicide one of Navarro's close friends on "Trapped in a Bomb" and the introspective, self-examining "Awkward Always." Whether he's looking inwards or outwards, Navarro's storytelling is as incisive as it is fun to listen to.
The Chinkees - K.A. Music EP
Asian Man Records
Mike Park has been a hero of DIY ska, punk, and ska-punk for three decades straight, and having already released multiple '90s ska-punk classics with Skankin' Pickle, The Chinkees, and The Bruce Lee Band, he continues to write some of the best music of his career today. The last two albums by the new version of The Bruce Lee Band (Jeff Rosenstock & friends included) might actually top their '90s material, Mike Park's new solo song "You Feel Like You're In Quicksand" (ft. Catbite's Brit Luna) perfectly summed up the anxieties of 2020, and he also wrote four of this year's best ska-punk songs in the form of the first Chinkees EP in 18 years. The EP reunites Mike Park with longtime guitarist/keyboardist Steve Choi (who found post-Chinkees fame in Rx Bandits), and it also ropes in Mike's Bruce Lee Band bandmate Kevin Higuchi on drums and Steve's Peace'd Out bandmate Roger Camero on bass. Hearing Mike Park and Steve Choi revive their chemistry is a real treat (especially with the very Steve Choi-esque guitar riffage on EP closer "Your Heart Will Break Forever"), and they cover a lot of musical ground on these four songs, from rippin' ska-punk ("Trace the Morning Time") to dubbed-out reggae ("Running All Alone") and plenty of the in-between. It's a little different than the new Bruce Lee Band records, but as with those records, K.A. Music is loaded with great lyrics, great melodies, and the kind of wisdom you only develop when you've been making music on your own terms for close to 30 nonstop years.
Catbite / Ominigone Split EP
Bad Time Records
Two of the best debut ska albums of 2019 came from Omnigone, a California ska-punk band with former Link 80 members Adam Davis on vocals and Barry Krippene on bass; and Catbite, a cleaner sounding Philly band who pull from the sounds of 2 Tone, rocksteady, The Clash, and more. Despite being Bad Time Records labelmates, the two bands never met IRL, but they became fans of each other online and teamed up for this split where each band covers the other. Catbite turned Omnigone's ska-punk ripper "Horizontal Aggression" into a more mid-tempo song in line with their own material, and Omnigone turned Catbite's power poppy "Scratch Me Up" into a ska-punk ripper. Both songs already feel like modern classics within the realm of ska, and it's very cool to hear them reinvented by two bands who approach the genre so differently from one another. (On The Fest's livestream, Catbite played Omnigone's version of "Scratch Me Up.") Catbite also offer up a great cover of The Clash's "White Riot," a protest anthem that had a resurgence this year due to the great new documentary of the same name; and Omnigone put a fresh spin on "Nothing New" from that band's final album, 2000's The Struggle Continues. It may a short split, but it's a very worthy addition to the catalogs of two of the best ska bands around.
Bite Me Bambi - Hurry Up and Wait EP
Orange County's Bite Me Bambi debuted last year with their first three singles, and this year they kept rolling out new songs all year until finally putting out their Hurry Up and Wait EP just before the year's end. They've got some familiar faces from the OC ska scene among their ranks (members who have played in Save Ferris, My Superhero, Starpool, Suburban Legends, Half Past Two, and more), and they've also got a commanding lead singer in Tahlena Chikami, whose voice and melodies make for some of the most undeniable songs in modern ska-punk. They don't shy away from big power pop hooks, and almost any of their songs sound like they could've been hits in the '90s, but they're never overly polished or overly retro. Bite Me Bambi just have that intangible special something where -- once you click play -- it doesn't really matter who they might sound like or how they compare to other bands or anything else. The songs are just undeniable.
Hey-Smith - Life In The Sun
Asian Man Records
On Life In The Sun, Japanese ska-punks Hey-Smith deliver some of the fastest, brightest, catchiest punk rock of any kind that you'll hear all year. On the punk side, they pull from galloping, double-time, '90s SoCal skate punk, and they do it with even more fervor than some of the bands who helped invent this kinda thing. As bright and fun as the songs are, there's a minor-key, Latin American tinge in those triumphant horn lines that keeps the album from ever feeling like run-of-the-mill pop punk. Life In The Sun is Hey-Smith's first for Asian Man Records, and it includes some of the major highlights of 2016's Stop The War ("Danadan," "2nd Youth"), and that's a good thing since Asian Man's involvement will probably make this the first Hey-Smith album that a lot of people in the States hear. Hopefully they'll tour here in the post-COVID world too, 'cause these are songs that beg to be heard live. Even in a year without circle pits, Life In The Sun got your blood rushing like you were in one.
Stuck Lucky / Still Alive - Facing Reality
Bad Time Records
Nashville's Stuck Lucky and Chicago's Still Alive are two of the best and heaviest ska-core bands in recent memory, and they each take distinctly different approaches to the genre, so they're a perfect match for what has become one of the year's finest ska splits. Stuck Lucky have been making dark, gritty ska-punk of the Voodoo Glow Skulls variety since the mid/late 2000s, and they offer up four rippers on this split that prove they still have a lot to say as a band. They sound as fresh, inspired, and hard-hitting as ever, and these new songs are some of their best. Still Alive's half ups the heaviness exponentially, going from ska-punk to ska-metalcore and offering up chugging guitars and throat-shredding screams that rival the '90s Victory Records catalog. Anyone who thinks ska is all silly, lighthearted music has never heard this band.
The Holophonics / Younger Than Neil - Sunk Cost EP
Ska and punk go so well together because both are essentially fun, fast forms of dance music, and when the right band comes along who understands the nuances of each genre and sees the ways in which they complement each other, the result is an adrenaline rush that's rarely matched by other styles of music. Denton, Texas' The Holophonics are one of those bands, and "Don't Buy The Hype" -- which kicks off their split EP with Denver's Younger Than Neil -- is one of those perfectly-executed, mile-a-minute ska-punk songs and some of the most purely fun music you'll hear all year. Their other contribution, "Drowning, Louder," explores a slower ska/rocksteady side and fuses it with slower alternative rock, and The Holophonics are great at that kind of thing too. Younger Than Neil's contributions push ska towards bright, nasally pop punk and towards bone-crushing hardcore, and on the amazingly titled "Rock & Roll May Not Pay The Bills, But Ska Will Put Your Ass In Debt" they bounce between those extremes so unpredictably that there's never a dull moment. Members of each band contributed to the other's songs, so it's a real family affair, and these four tracks cover a lot of musical ground, proving in just 11 minutes that "ska-punk" can mean so many different things.
Grey Matter - Climbing Out
Bad Time Records
If you have any doubts that the current ska scene is not just about nostalgia, listen to Lansing, Michigan's Grey Matter. Their new album combines ska rhythms and horn lines with the sound and perspective of the millennial/Gen Z-driven emo revival scene, while also incorporating a ton of other musical influences that range from whiplash-inducing hardcore to meditative jazz. The songs take on racism, mental health, consent, student debt, and other pressing social/political issues, and guitarist/vocalist Mack Doyle drives the importance of these issues home with a delivery that's so clear and direct that it's impossible to miss a single word. Climbing Out is an album that's as lyrically conscious as it is musically ambitious and diverse. This band just goes for it on every level, and honestly, I really can't think of anyone else who sounds like them.
The Skints - Live at Electric Brixton
Easy Star Records
One of this year's best music documentaries is White Riot, which is about the UK's late '70s Rock Against Racism movement and the punk, ska, and reggae that went along with it. If you like the music of the RAR movement, then you should definitely be listening to The Skints, who seamlessly fuse all three of those genres and more. They put out their excellent fourth album Swimming Lessons last year, and while touring in support of it, they recorded what became this year's live album, Live at Electric Brixton. Live albums have sort of been making a comeback during this year without actual live music, and The Skints' Live at Electric Brixton is one of the best ones I've heard. It really gets across how much energy they bring to their shows, and it's got a great setlist, with highlights of their reggae side ("Restless"), ska ("Lay You Down"), punk ("Learning To Swim"), a medley of their own "The Forest For The Trees" into a Chance the Rapper cover into a Freddie McGregor cover, and much more. As the set flows seamlessly between all of this stuff, it shows off how versatile this band is, and the album also shows off how excellent they sound on stage. There's a little more breathing room on these recordings than on the band's also-great studio recordings, and they just sound so alive.
Millie Manders and the Shutup - Telling Truths, Breaking Ties
Millie Manders and the Shutup had been leaving their mark on the UK ska/punk scene since releasing their debut EP in 2015, and five years and three more EPs later they've finally released their first full-length, Telling Truths, Breaking Ties. It's a casually genre-defying LP that can't be pigeonholed from hearing just one or two songs, and it's widely accessible, thanks to a barrage of hooks and Millie's powerhouse pipes. Telling Truths, Breaking Ties kinda sounds like the first few Lollapalooza lineups in a blender; Millie cites such formative influences as No Doubt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, De La Soul, Cypress Hill, Green Day, Prodigy, and more, and you can hear all of that coming through in this album's mix of ska, punk, alternative rock, metal, hip hop, and more. (I might add there's a little Rage Against the Machine in the mix too.) Millie is not just a belter, but also someone who knows how to dial it back when the song calls for it, and she's got a pretty cool rapping style too. She's also a powerful lyricist with a knack for the personal and introspective ("Your Story") as well as the external and political ("Poor Man's Show"). The music may sound like a lost album from the mid '90s, but the perspective is entirely 2020.
The Meddlers - Drop Culture EP
The Meddlers hail from LA's constantly-flourishing ska scene, and their first EP, Drop Culture, has already been leaving a mark outside of their home city's underground. Like a lot of LA ska bands, there's a definite Latin influence, and there's a lot of range on this five-song EP, from ska-core rippers like "Svid" and "Work Like Hell" to a cover of the Sinaloan traditional "El Niño Perdido" to the insanely catchy ska-punk anthem "Not Now." It's also a record that's reflective of the year it was released into; "Work Like Hell" is a fired-up song dedicated to the hell essential workers have had to go through since this pandemic hit. Drop Culture may be short, but it's overflowing with great ideas, great songwriting, and crisp production. I can't wait to hear where this band goes next.
Poindexter - Poindexter EP
Poindexter is a new ska-punk band with members based in both Detroit and LA, and all they've got so far are the three songs on this EP but it's already clear that this is a band worth paying attention to. Vocalist/guitarist Gracie Pryor has a great voice and sharp lyrics that don't rely on ska or punk cliches, and in general Poindexter go in more of a mid-tempo indie rock direction than what you might think of when you hear "ska-punk." They're doing something that feels new and fresh and not derivative of other bands, but also not totally out of left field -- the songs are still approachable and catchy, they're just not so easy to put your finger on. That's usually a sign of a great band, especially when you can pull it off on your first three songs.
Less Than Jake - Silver Linings
From American ska-punk's early '90s beginnings, to its mainstream boom, to its lull in popularity to its recent underground resurgence, Less Than Jake have always been there. They never stopped touring, never stopped releasing music, and proudly waved the ska-punk flag whether it was trendy or not. In addition to appearing on Ska Against Racism this year (22 years after they played Mike Park's original Ska Against Racism tour), they put out Silver Linings, their first new music since new drummer Matt Yonker replaced founding drummer/lyricist Vinnie Fiorello. As co-frontman Roger Lima told us in a recent interview, the band felt refreshed while making this one. You can hear that in the songs, which sound like classic LTJ without feeling like rehashed versions of music they've written before. It's a fun, catchy, energetic record; not bad at all for a band nearly 30 years into their career.
The Inevitables - The Inevitables
Vinnie Fiorrello may have parted ways with Less Than Jake, but he's still making music. Vinnie and Westbound Train's Obi Fernandez formed the new supergroup The Inevitables, which also includes Alex Stern (Big D and The Kids Table, Westbound Train), Matt Appleton (Reel Big Fish), Billy Kottage (Reel Big Fish, Big D, The Interrupters), John DeDomenici (Jeff Rosenstock's band, Bomb the Music Industry!), Jon Degan (Big D), and Sean Paul Pillsworth (Nightmare for a Week), and their self-titled debut album is the soundtrack to their comic book of the same name, which features scriptwriting by The Swellers' Jono Diener, art by Devin Watson, Liana Kangas, Fabian Lelay, and lettering by Cardinal Rae. If you like any or all of the members' other projects, you're probably gonna like this too. The album is loaded with super fun, fast, catchy ska-punk songs, as well as some cool slower dub/reggae parts, and even though the songs all take place in a fictional universe, the songwriting is still as real and serious as these musicians have released in the past.
For even more, Vinnie, Obi, Alex, and PEARS' Zach Quinn released the debut EP by Who Will Meet Me At The Gates?, a folk punk band from the Inevitables' comic book universe.
JER - "R/Edgelord," "Breaking News! Local Punk Doubts Existence of Systemic Racism" & "A Message To My Future Self"
Ask just about anyone and they'll tell you that Jeremy Hunter is hugely responsible for the recent increased interest in ska. Jeremy built up a big following with their Skatune Network covers project, and they've since worked tirelessly to promote other ska bands, fight the stigma surrounding ska, raise awareness about the history and the social justice aspects of ska, and help change people's minds about what ska is and can be. Jeremy has also been in We Are The Union since their killer 2018 album Self Care, and this year they launched their own project of original music, JER. JER's debut album is due in 2021 via Bad Time, but the first three singles are out now and they're all great. They find Jeremy making ska-punk where the "punk" side has more in common with current DIY indie-punk than with '90s skate punk, making for music that feels built for a new generation rather than relying on nostalgia. And with sharp lyricism that can be both personal and political, the perspective is just as fresh as the music.
We Are The Union - "Your Way, Your Time" & "Pre-Expatriate"
We Are The Union's 2018 album Self Care (their first with Jeremy Hunter handling horn arrangements) is one of the strongest ska-punk albums in recent memory, and as the world awaits a followup, WATU have been busy. In addition to a few covers and a song on Ska Against Racism, the band put out two excellent singles this year, "Your Way, Your Time" and "Pre-Expatriate." Both pick up where Self Care left off, and continue to progress the band's sound. Not only did Jeremy's horn arrangements help reinvigorate WATU's sound, but Reed Wolcott continues to evolve as a singer and songwriter as well. The melodies on these songs are as catchy as WATU have ever been, and the bright sound is matched by sharp lyrics that take a good hard look at the world around us and promote the idea of working towards a better one.
Faintest Idea - "Stomp Them Down"
UK band Faintest Idea have been fusing ska with gritty street punk for over a decade, and for their first new song in four years, they've written an anthem for protests against neo-nazis and other far right groups. The song was originally inspired by witnessing counter protests against far right groups in Leipzig, but it (depressingly) carries a lot of weight here in the US this year too. With its shouted gang vocal hook of "STOMP 'EM DOWN, STOMP 'EM DOWN, STOMP 'EM DOWN," it's the anti-fascist street punk ripper that 2020 needed.
The Bar Stool Preachers - "When This World Ends" / "State of Emergency"
UK ska-punks The Bar Stool Preachers wrote and recorded this two-song single, dubbed Soundtrack To Your Apocalypse, as the world was going into lockdown, and it's very clearly inspired by the chaos of 2020 (and was released to help benefit healthcare workers and their families). "This is a call to be better," the band says. "To be kinder. To share strength. To be a community that leads with love. To hold politicians accountable." Both songs do exactly that; "When This World Ends" is a catchy anthem that takes on everything from mass poverty to capitalism to being a dick at the supermarket, and "State of Emergency" is a darker minor-key ska song about riots, the police state, and civil rights. The Bar Stool Preachers have written political songs before, but you could feel their urgency in these two tracks like never before.
Mike Park - "You Feel Like You're In Quicksand" (ft. Catbite's Brittany Luna)
As I wrote above when talking about the new Chinkees EP, Mike Park has been writing some of the best songs of his three-decade-long career lately, and this collaboration with Catbite singer Brittany Luna is one of the very best. A lot of songs written in 2020 were directly about the social/political issues that you saw everyday on the news this year, and this song tackles some of that stuff too, but this one looks inwards. It's about witnessing all the "toxicity and anger and hatred and fighting" in the world (Mike's words) and feeling like no matter what you do to fight against it, you're still sinking. In a year where I'm sure a lot of us have had those days where we feel totally helpless, this one hits close to home.
Jeff Rosenstock - "Collapse!"
There's a great quote in the Ska Is Dead chapter of Aaron Carnes' upcoming book In Defense of Ska where Jeff Rosenstock is talking about Bomb the Music Industry!'s non-ska 2011 album Vacation and he says, "It’s ska. There’s no ska on that record. That's fine. You can call it that if you want to. You can't shake it no matter what. I don't think it's something you should shake." It makes sense; ska is as much of a lifestyle and a mentality as it is a music genre, and Jeff Rosenstock continues to live that lifestyle and bring that mentality to the non-ska music he makes today. As both Jeremy Hunter (Skatune Network, JER, We Are The Union) and Greg Rodrigue (Bad Operation, Community Records, Fatter Than Albert) would agree, Jeff remains an important figure within ska and a big reason that ska is having a more widespread resurgence than it has in a while. Jeff's excellent 2020 album NO DREAM is mostly a punk record, but he also put out this dark, dubby, ska-infused song (with Jeremy Hunter on horns) on his Bandcamp. It was recorded in the middle of the pandemic, and it's a protest song that sounds very much inspired by the chaos of 2020. As Jeff's music often is, it's as bluntly powerful as it is poetic.
The Slackers - "Blue"
It's no surprise that there was a lot of protest music in one of the most contentious election years in recent memory (among many other reasons), but I didn't hear too many songs specifically about the election. There was at least one very good one though, from NYC ska vets The Slackers. Over a dubby groove, Vic Ruggiero uses different colors as a metaphor for division, and they made it very clear with the single artwork and all of the song's promotion that blue is also the color of their vote. "The blue that we support is the blue of the post office maps and the blue on the electoral maps," Vic said. "We put a sticker with a mailbox on the record to make that clear to anyone who has been indoctrinated with double speak." The song is poetic and open-ended (and enjoyable to listen to) enough that it still holds up even with the election behind us. And besides, as long as we're stuck with this two-party system, "Blue" will have renewed relevance every two years.
Victims of Circumstance - Five
Something To Do - Give Me Attention
Harijan - Harijan
Dope Times - Life Is A Mess
Mad Caddies - House On Fire
Listen or subscribe to our playlist of some of our favorite ska and ska-punk songs of 2020: