The Hempsteadys are an eleven (yup, you read that right) piece ska band from New London, Connecticut. Influenced by acts such as Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster, The Clash, Mephiskapheles and of course, coming from the Connecticut area, Spring Heeled Jack, The Hempsteadys released a new album at the beginning of August. Titled Séance! Séance!, the album features eleven songs that take traditional ska music and adds a modern sound to it. After reading a description of the band on Dying Scene ("If you like old school ska, boy have we found a gem for you! The vocals are gritty and add just enough ‘punk essence’ to keep it from being reggae. The horns (and specifically the saxophone) are all incredible. If it’s one thing we think we need more of in punk music these days, it’s more saxophone."), I was very keen to check out The Hempsteadys and Séance! Séance!
Things begin with a song titled Still Life Woodpecker. Musically there is so much going on in the song, it sounds as if all eleven members of the band are contributing in a big way. The Hempsteadys use their many vocalists to great effect when it comes to gang vocals, particularly in the chorus where the gang trades lines with the band's lead singer and in the song's finale which just grows bigger and bigger. Compass is an up-tempo song that adds some punk to the modern ska sound. The Hempsteadys' brass section is the star of the show for the first half of the track, perfectly accompanying those gritty vocals. There was a nice surprise towards the end of the song when out of nowhere a drum and percussion breakdown happens that leads towards the song's ending. This was so unexpected that I had to check that we hadn't just moved onto another song. The third song, When Dead Are Undead, is an instrumental track featuring a very special guest in the form of Bim Skala Bim's Vinny Noble on trombone.
Classic Cars from the outset gives you the impression that the song is going to have a huge chorus thanks to some exquisite brass playing. This is a slower and more chilled out track. It kind of makes me think of a barroom rock song (with horns) that will have a whole room singing along to the chorus as loudly as possible. The song's ending cements the opinion that The Hempsteadys are eleven musicians who are at the absolute top of their game on this album. The long outro – just wows. Temple Of Boom is another instrumental track that is lead wonderfully by Shaun Burgandy's bass guitar. It provides a great platform for the song for the rest of the band to work from. Rudy Comes From The Streets is an upbeat foot stomper that is impossible not to dance to, sing-along with and just have a jolly good time whilst listening to. This high energy number, for me, is when The Hempsteadys are at their very best. This is the first time on Séance! Séance! that the keyboards really come to the forefront of the song and, if I'm not mistaken, I also heard some piano and theremin on the song. The seventh song, Ghost Of Joe Strummer, begins with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, this really brings the tempo down after the high tempo and upbeat nature of the previous song. I do question the placement of the song on the album but, as a standalone track, it's superb. After the slow intro, the song gradually moves into a brief foray into a ska-country song before settling into some dirty reggae.
Dangerous continues with the slower tempo. Interestingly the song sticks with the same simple riff throughout the track's duration. Occasionally a key change is teased but never happens. It has you thinking that soon things will pick up and Dangerous will explode into life but it never happens. This song feels quite retrospective as The Hempsteadys' lead singer sings about not having much in the world but he does have love. The Moon Laughs Knowingly has me thinking of a cross between The Slackers and The Aggrolites, taking a more traditional ska style and adding those great dirty and gritty vocals to the sound. It's the horns that steal the spotlight though, injecting a little bit of energy into a fairly chilled out song. The penultimate song on Séance! Séance! is titled The Well. The Well is a track about the unbreakable bond of friendship and knowing that whatever happens in your life you will always have that great group of friends to have your back. Séance! Séance! finishes with the five minute long Box Fan. This feels like an album closer. There's so much going on throughout the song and it has this amazing build towards its ending. It almost feels like all the different sections of the band decide to do their own thing and it all eventually blends beautifully into one big and fantastic finale.
2018 has been a massive year for ska music. Before this release I wasn't familiar with The Hempsteadys but I am very impressed. Séance! Séance! could be a surprise choice for the ska album of the year and should please fans of all areas of the genre. I'm hoping The Hempsteadys can somehow find their way to London soon so I can experience them live.
Stream and download Séance! Séance! here: https://thehempsteadys.bandcamp.com/
Like The Hempsteadys here: https://www.facebook.com/thehempsteadys/
This review was written by Colin Clark.