Last year I went out of my way to try and discover some underground ska punk bands from America as I felt that my knowledge was severely lacking. I had a lot of success in my search and discovered some really great bands. One of those bands, Chicago's Beat The Smart Kids, put out a brand new EP titled Set Sail towards the end of 2018 and I figured that after spending so much time finding these bands I should give it a listen.
The EP begins with its title track, Set Sail. It starts with some scratchy sounding guitar and some rough vocals, before some trombone hits and the song begins properly. On my first listen of the song I was immediately impressed with how the band implement a few different styles and tempos on the song without the song feeling clunky or clustered. It's also a song that you can pick up very easily and will have you singing along quickly. Set Sail is about doing your own thing and going your own way despite what the naysayers might think. On the second song, It's A Bomb, Beat The Smart Kids show off some diversity with their sound. The song starts with a much heavier tone than on the previous track and has a massive introduction before we get into some high tempo brass that will get everyone skanking. Vocally I'm really reminded of Dave Kirchgessner of legendary ska punks Mustard Plug. That is until Beat The Smart Kids really change things up and we get super skacore, perhaps giving the similarly named UK band Beat The Red Light a run for their money with some fantastic screaming.
Skippin' The Gym starts out quite slowly with more of a bouncy sing-along style about constantly avoiding things that you don't want to do. Soon enough the song picks up some real speed and will quickly get you dancing and getting your cardio before slowing down again to complete the track. I really enjoyed how a song that talks about avoiding exercise will get you doing it. The penultimate song on the EP is named Table For One. Table For One is about living in solitary, not giving up your time for other people and generally being a bit selfish. It sounds like quite a sad way to live and you'd think that musically the song would represent that, but no, this is a ska punk song. The trombone at the beginning of the song in particular put a huge grin on my face and it's another song that you'll be singing along to very quickly. The fifth and final song on the EP is titled Better Than Just Fine. It's a shorter song, at under two minutes in length, and finishes Set Sail off in a real positive way. It's a song about being happy and enjoying your life. The chorus was what really stood out on my first listen with the whole band taking turns to sing about what's making them so gosh darn happy and then combining for a gang vocal shout of "we're doing better than just fine." What a wonderful way to finish this fantastic EP.
If I had spent a little more time with Set Sail before the end of 2018, there's a very good chance that this would have finished up on my end of year list. Yes, it does sound very Mustard Plug but they're one of my favourite bands ever so I'm more than okay with that. I hope Beat The Smart Kids eventually find their way to the UK where they will be very well received.
Stream and download Set Sail here: https://btskska.bandcamp.com/album/set-sail
Like Beat The Smart Kids here: https://www.facebook.com/btskska
This review was written by Colin Clark.