The ska revival of the '80s and '90s brought us The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Sublime, Less Than Jake and plenty of other bands that fused the Jamaican genre's penchant for offbeat rhythms with punk rock's offbeat sense of humor. In other words, there was a lot of goofy fun, plaid pants and outrageous dancing.
The five guys in the ska group Something to Do also channel the political consciousness many punk groups are known for-plus the driving tempo and thick guitar that make hardcore exciting-in their song "Pray for the Dead." However, they do it without losing the zany energy and absurdity of their genre. It's activism you can skank to.
Right from the get-go, the band's horn section blasts in with a minor-key melody, driven by a taskmaster of a rhythm guitarist. It feels a bit like a chase song from a James Bond movie being mocked in an Adult Swim cartoon. Even if you don't listen to a single word being sung, the melody conjures up images of gangster shootouts, dancing skeletons and international spydom. Not bad for four minutes, right?
It's hard not to listen to the lyrics, though, since the song's got a great little call-and-response of "Let's pray for the dead" running through it. Pretty soon, you realize you're dancing your butt off to a sarcastic war protest message of "Let's keep on losing lives until we're sure that we're ahead."
An interlude by the brass section about two-thirds through the track, followed by a wicked drum crescendo, erupts into a shout-along sing-along, then dissipates into five words, repeated in unison, that call out from the crypt quietly but urgently.
These ghostly words are part of the song's message, of course, but that's not it: They're also evidence that ska itself isn't dead, according to the band.
"There aren't that many ska bands anymore, but pretty much every time we play somewhere new, people seem to really respond," says trumpet player Mike Barse. "It seems to have moved on from lame trend to 'Hey, cool! I remember ska bands!'"
An MP3 of "Pray for the Dead" is available at right. More music by Something to Do is available on its MySpace page. Skank with the band -- with a sausage in hand -- if you're headed to Brat Days in Sheboygan on Saturday, August 1.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.