There’s something oddly minimalistic about the seemingly complex songs on Hobo Chili’s debut album. This collection of ten snappy dance anthems blends an ambitious big-band style with the skeletal tone of it’s lo-fi recording sound, as though the band all piled into one room with nothing but a Garageband app and a mic, playing within arms reach of the record button.
What sets this album apart, however, is how the band showcases multiple dimensions of ska, which is a quality I believe is overlooked by a lot of ska bands who are just starting out and looking for a way to get a head up from the pack.
First of all, Hobo Chili creates a great sense of dynamics in their songs. The band does a great job juxtaposing different tempos and musical styles. The quasi-Spanish-style intro to the lead track “The Tribadour” is just the gateway to a more punk-infused rhythm, while the instrumental “All Ages” fades from a punchy ska number into some buttery smooth, dub-infused reggae.
The best example of dynamics has to be found in a song like “Circus Vamp.” The first 30 seconds features the various band members as they layer their instruments on top of each other, almost as if they’re building a cake with different ingredients. The bass comes in with a Fugazi-style melody, followed quickly by the drums carrying a rocksteady beat. The guitar fades in with a droning, surfy tone chased immediately by the horns tying the song together in a slurring noir-style.
Of course, fans of straight-forward ska need not fret. The album promises some consistently skank-worthy numbers such as “All Through The Night,” “Entertaining Liars,” and “Move Your Feet,” the latter of which acts as almost like an intermission for the audience to just shut up and dance while the band does their thing. Meanwhile the vocals are fun to sing. Hobo Chili employs interesting techniques like slurring from note to note and chilly vibrato which will make for some great singalongs at their live shows. The vocals blur in and out of tune, which is hard to get past on some songs like “The Tribadour” and “Payin’ My Dues”, but, hey, it’s just one bad stitch in an otherwise finely knit quilt.
For me, the stand-out track has to be the one that you’ve all heard by now, “Firewater.” I can’t honestly say that a lot of the songs on the record have anthemic choruses, but this one is your run-of-the-mill, fist pumping singalong song. It’s also unique in that the swinging melody makes for a nice contrast against the speeding ska rhythms that dominate the album. Plus, who the hell else hasn’t bet on firewater at least one time…if not for a lifetime (I literally used the last of my gin to make a gin and tonic when I listened to this song for the first time…heartbreaking, yet relateable).
In the end, this album is a good start for a great band. The album is full of catchy songs and the musicianship on the album seems to be only a teaser of the excitement that their live shows will generate. Also the lo-fi sound gives the band an air of intimacy; played through a good set of speakers, the album sounds as though the band is recording right in your living room instead of some well-dressed studio somewhere. At its core, the album and the songs set a tone for this band; that the goofiness and fun of ska can still give listeners a new look at the genre if the band has an eye for the missing pieces of the puzzle.
Hobo Chili’s CD release party is Friday, May 29, 8pm at TT The Bear’s in Cambridge. They’ll be joined by Destroy Babylon, Brunt of It, The Copacetics, and Riki Rocksteady. This 18+ show is $10 in advance and $12 at the doors. Grab your tickets and join the Facebook Event. Their album will be available on Spotify, iTunes, and other digital stores.