Saturday, September 6, 2008

No Torso - 'Several Brains'

In the liner notes to their full-length debut, A Guided Tour of Chicago, The Lawrence Arms wrote, “Without Mike Park, this world would suck.” They were pretty much right. Through his label, Asian Man Records, Park has released fine albums from such notable groups as Alkaline Trio, Big D and The Kids Table, and, of course, the Larry Arms. There’s one more group to add that catalog, and its name is No Torso. While the group’s Asian Man debut, Several Brains, does not match the quality of the other bands listed, it still stands as a solid ska release.

Musically, Several Brains is a refreshing mid-level ska album. It’s not perpetually punked out, nor is it stuffed with smoked-out reggae. Rather, it’s got a lil bit of both. Opening with “Fight the Blue Horizon,” which also recently appeared [At the time, it was summer 2007] on Asian Man’s rocktastic compilation Plea for Peace Volume 2, No Torso instantly grabs the listener’s attention with energetic guitar, horns, and drums. It’s a great song, but one which only hints at the band’s musical dexterity.

No Torso’s strongest suit is its jamming abilities. Tracks like “Hangman” and “Time Will Show” reveal the band’s knack for riding out some positive vibes. “Hangman” features some quality guitar playing from string slingers Martin Brostigen and Kristian Hamang. But it’s “Time Will Show” which allows the whole band to showoff. It clocks in at 3:42, and about three of those minutes consist of solos shared amongst each of the players. Bendik Brfnne’s sax splits time with Hans Friis’ trombone before a searing guitar solo brings things back into focus for some rockin’ and an “oi” chant.

But while the 11 tracks on Several Brains are sonically pleasing, they don’t always hold up lyrically. The most obvious song to pick on is “I’m Glad I'm Alive.” More than any other song, this is the one to promote smirks and quizzical looks. The lyrics exist more to fill space than to convey a message. Sample line: “I chew my corn flakes every day / So I’m sure I’m not dead on the way / To the mailbox where I take a rest.” Yet, despite this shortcoming, No Torso saw fit to include “I’m Glad Alive” on the album twice. That’s right, there’s “I’m Glad I’m Alive (Reggae)” and, six tracks later, “I’m Glad I’m Alive (Original).” It’s tempting to pass this off as the result of a language barrier (No Torso is from Norway), but that won’t make the tune any more interesting.

All the same, though, fans of third wave ska will have a good time with Several Brains. There are some great jams on this disc. No Torso is currently hunkered down and working on new material, so hopefully they’ll be able to expand on the promise of Several Brains with an even better ska release in the coming year.

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