Album Review: The Pandemics – “Brain On Tap”

New York ska band The Pandemic’s first release “Brain On Tap” is like a stroll through some 60-odd years of ska music, containing well-approached songs for each period (and then some).

Right from track 1, there’s no secret about it: the brass section tends to play a leading role in most every song, and for good reason. They are an extremely tight, well-polished and articulate group of horn players. This is anything but a backing section. These guys pave the way in this album. It’s astonishing the amount of complexity an additional member or two can bring to a band’s sound, and The Pandemics feature a fully-stocked horn section, including two trumpets, a trombone, an alto/tenor sax, and a baritone sax. That’s a lot of brass, but it isn’t squandered.

My taste for the rough n’ gruff vocals (supplied by trombonist Chris Malone) seems to vary track-by-track. A matter of taste, perhaps, but overall I preferred bassist Greg Steiner’s leading tracks such as “Movin’ ” and “Rhumba De Los Muertos.” He’s got a swing-friendly voice that’s very reminiscent of Robert “Bucket” Hingley’s (The Toasters).

The swing influence in the music is strong and puts an early 3rd-wave spin on the album; a sound much more influenced by jazz and the preceding 2-tone than punk. To name just one, “One Night Stand” is a great example of this (this is also one of tracks I think Malone’s vocals work smoothly with the music). There is some fantastic jazz soloing in this one; I’m a huge sucker for growl-y muted trumpet.

Moving through the album, the dynamic of style continues to change, with the instrumental “Skaramanga” showcasing a very latin/1st wave ska sound that the band pulls off with class. Fans of Mustard Plug, MU330, The Toasters, and perhaps Cherry Poppin’ Daddies will enjoy this swing-infused ska album. My favorite tracks include “Movin,’ ” mainly for the bitchin’ horn solos.  A solid 7.5/10 stars for The Pandemic’s latest release.

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