Assuming you’ve been sleeping in a cave for the last few months, Scorpios is the folk-punk supergroup consisting of Joey Cape, Tony Sly, Jon Snodgrass and Brian Wahlstrom. Their self-titled debut full-length album, originally released as a Radiohead-esque “pay what you want” download, sounds primarily like a group of songs that were holdovers from the individual members’ prior solo releases, with a few original (on the fly?) collaborations thrown in for good measure.
The bulk of “Scorpios” is, well, average; enjoyable yet all-too-familiar sounding. The Sly-fronted “Happy Anniversary” sounds like tracks that appear on both of his solo records, almost eerily so (“Toaster In The Bathtub” anyone?). “Lonely Parade,” meanwhile, is standard solo Cape melancholy fare. Cape and Sly are both steady, adept songwriters, and their lyrics are always personal and relatable tales of frustration and failure, but their solo tunes do have a habit of sounding formulaic.
Some of the album’s better moments fall into a rut that is all-too-common in the current wave of folk-punk alter ego music; that being that they are way too short. Just because a typical skate-punk tune clocks in at under 2.5 minutes doesn’t mean that EVERY song has to clock in at the same length. The folk/acoustic genre should give artists the freedom to open up and explore new styles and patterns, not just write essentially stripped down versions of punk rock songs. Don’t get me wrong: stripped down acoustic versions of punk songs are fine, as evidenced by 2004’s Sly/Cape “Acoustic” release. But releases such as “Scorpios” are at their best when they stray from the norm.
Case in point: two of the album’s shining moments, “Scorpios” and “Oise” are anything but standard. The former plays as an upbeat, autobiographical tale of a bunch of guys who enjoy making music with each other. It’s nothing complicated, but it’s a fun song that allows three of the band’s four members a chance to take over the frontman role. That said, it’s also way too short, and really suffers from its abrupt ending. “Oise,” is an Eastern European flavored Bavarian oompa-folk track that is incredibly fun to listen to, though also way too short. The highway country styled “Lifer”is probably the strongest track start-to-finish, complete with group sing-along chorus. It’s probably no coincidence that the track is about a minute longer than the bulk of the album’s tracks. The Snodgrass-penned “Weighing In” is a perfect example of what is possible when you change keys occasionally and add multiple layers of instrumentation.
To me, Snodgrass’ voice sounds the most fitting within the ‘acoustic troubadour’ genre, and his songwriting presence is what separates “Scorpios” apart from Sly and Cape’s previous forays into the genre (with all due respect to Wahlstrom, I was not previously familiar with his other work). Whether or not we see future releases from Scorpios remains to be seen, as the principal members all have myriad other projects. But it would be nice to see what would the end result would be if all four members took the time to treat Scorpios as a full band project rather than as a cut-and-paste side gig.