Monday, 7 October 2019

Album Review: Maximum Effort by Just Say Nay

One of the best things about doing CPRW is when one of your favourite bands sends you their new album – one you’ve been eagerly waiting for since learning about it in way back in January. I was so excited when the magnificent Leo Harvey of Just Say Nay sent me the band’s debut album Maximum Effort. I was at work at the time and planned to wait until I got home to give it a listen but I couldn't help myself and had a sneaky listen of a few songs before really sitting down with that. Just that little preview gave me the feeling that this was going to be a masterpiece.

For those unaware, Just Say Nay are a nine piece ska/punk/gypsy band who have been making a name for themselves around the UK with their high energy performances, skankathons and big sing-alongs. Taking the ska punk genre to places never before imagined, Just Say Nay are an eclectic bunch and unlike any band you will have ever seen or heard before. And they are on their way to becoming a big name, along with being a big band, in the UK DIY punk scene.

Maximum Effort starts with I Think I've Had An Apostrophe. Over the past year or so JSN have been squeezing newer songs into their set list, giving fans a little teaser as well as road testing some of the songs live. This wasn't something done for I Think I've Had An Apostrophe however. This made it a perfect choice to open the album as it instantly feels new for everyone, whether you're new to the band or you've been following them for a while. The song actually starts out pretty gently with some soft strums of an electric guitar and lead singer Jak soulfully crooning alongside some fantastic harmonies from flutist Becky. Gradually the full band comes in and the song really gets going, really getting your blood pumping for a good ol' knees up. In one opening song, JSN really show off their whole repertoire and leave you seriously excited for what is to come. Picking Stitches is up next with superb brass from Katy, Charlotte and Mikey T opening the song. JSN have one of the best brass sections in the scene, fantastic to watch and always spot on sonically. I feel like I can say this about a few songs on Maximum Effort, but it's a rollercoaster. Starting with some intensity, moving to something more punchy, adding some melody and finishing with some big gang vocal harmonies – it's all going on here! The third song Don't Try To Stop Me Smee is a song about continuing to go for your dreams no matter what barriers you might find in your way. Another song that takes you on one hell of a ride. The majority of the song sees JSN dabbling in a little bit of pop punk with some big shredding guitars opening the song before the brass and Jak's vocals come in, soon to be joined by Becky's flute that adds this great fantastical extra element to the song – making it all the more playful. The second half of the track adds more of a bouncy (another word that could be used a lot in this review) ska/carnival sound which gives you this great upbeat feeling.

Artistic Spectrum is one of the songs that JSN released ahead of Maximum Effort and one we were lucky enough to feature on our Fifth Birthday Compilation as well. This showcased a different side of the JSN sound when it was first released. So much so that I wasn't sure who it was when I first heard it. The song shows a more urgent JSN, with the song for the most part played at full speed. On the first verse I was reminded of the much missed Tyrannosaurus Alan, with Jak leaving behind his sweet melodic vocals for some rapping. Jak spits bars, as the kids say. This is a powerful song that just can't be ignored. Butterfingers is one of the more traditional ska/pop songs on Maximum Effort. Perhaps poppier than anything JSN have released in the past, it's a song about consistently letting the girl get away and realising after it's too late. Jak, along with Becky's backing vocals, may well have just delivered the best vocal performance on any JSN song so far – this track is just full of beauty and charm. All the best ska albums have that slower ska/pop song that really stands out compared to everything else, this is Maximum Effort's version. The sixth song, With A Twist Of Lemon, has become a big highlight of JSN's live set over the past year or so. The acoustic version they performed in the basement of the New Cross Inn at Level Up Festival in the summer was one of the highlights of the entire festival. It's a song about having a wild and crazy night out and the emotions that come with that. The song is split into three. The first two parts capture two emotions that you might feel on a night out. The first being that energetic excitement at the start of the night where nothing can stop you having the night of your life, the second a feeling of regret when you realise you might have overdone it and you find yourself trying to make sure you finish the night in one piece. These two moods are portrayed firstly, with an up-tempo, excitable section and then a slower, sorrowful moment before we get to the third and final section. The sing-along with Mikey T section. A favourite section for any JSN gig. Mikey T finishes the song with what I think is best described as some yodelling. I'm not really sure why this is a thing but I don't really care as it's the most amount of fun – every single time.

The seventh track is far and away the most poignant moment of Maximum Effort. It's a beautiful poem written and performed by a friend of the band named Luke. It's a moving tribute to a gentleman by the name of Mike Crampton who was a much loved friend to many people in the New Cross Inn/Be Sharp ska scene/family. This is followed by Don't Let The Coffee Grind You Down, which is JSN's own tribute to Mike. Exploring a punkier side of JSN, with the brass still there but also taking a bit of a back seat to the guitars on the song. During the song, Jak sings about his love of Mike, all the great things he brought to his life and how much it hurts that he is no longer with us. The chorus on the song is a big one. Becky's harmonies add even more emotion to what is already a very emotional song. It's also so damn catchy that you'll quickly be singing along with the song. Double Foxes showcases JSN's gypsy influence. Here's another that the band have been playing regularly live to great receptions. It's a song about wanting to be free of everything and to be able to do whatever you want without limitations. This song is all over the place in a way that only JSN can make work. It starts out slowly, builds, comes back down, gets a bit wild and then back under control. It's hard to predict where on earth it's going to go but it's a wild ride. The tenth song, Mug Pie, is a shorter song that on my first listen had me thinking that this was going to be an instrumental song. It's not until about halfway through the song that the vocals come in. Allowing such a talented band to have such a long instrumental moment in the song was a real treat, it flowed along really nicely and when Jak eventually does come in it felt like the natural point, really showing off some great songwriting. The track is about that guy who is always guilty of telling lies and has reached the point of never being believed anymore. Honesty is the best policy.

If you've only ever heard one JSN song I would confidently place a bet that it's Low Blow. Originally appearing on the band’s debut EP Shit Out Of Luck, it has been given a new coat of paint and is included on Maximum Effort. I was so pleased when I saw this as it's one of my favourite JSN songs and puts such big smiles on everyone's faces when they play it live. It's just the perfect song for a live setting. To start with, the horn lines at the beginning of the track just encourage crowd participation. This crowd participation continues frequently throughout the entire song. I'm of the belief that whenever a band can connect with a crowd in a way in which JSN do on Low Blow, they are doing something very right. Listen to this song one time and then try not to spend the rest of the week singing it. The penultimate song is titled Techno Guilt. When I first read the title, a little part of me did hope that is would be a JSN take on techno music – that would have been quite something. In fact, it's a track about just wanting to live your life the way that you want to without feeling guilty for letting somebody down. It's pretty relatable for anyone who has chosen to stray away from the path that they're expected/pressured to be on. Musically, it's pretty high tempo and packs plenty of punch. As it plays through, the track gets more emotional as the gravity of what Jak is saying really becomes so powerful. The lines "we just want to live, we just want to love, we don't want to feel, like we're not enough" are tattoo worthy – assuming you have an area big enough to fit so many words. Finally we have the eight minute long epic Kuromouri. When I first saw that the final song was eight minutes long I thought that it might be that thing that bands do when they have the final song, leave a minute or so of silence and then have a little bonus track on the end. I actually hate that so was very pleased when I discovered that Kuromouri is actually an eight minute long song. It's eight minutes long and it's fucking amazing! What an adventure this song is. It starts out so quickly, there's no building moments, we just jump straight into the deep end and ride the waves of this song. There's so much going on here it's impossible to really give you a proper run through of the track – just go out of your way to listen to it. As soon as you can. Basically it show JSN at their very best. Great vocals, amazing musicianship, poignant lyrics, brave, unique, daring, it has you dancing and it leave you wanting more – imagine, being a fan of punk rock and wanting more of an already eight minute long song! When we do get to the song’s, and the album’s, finale we are treated to a goosebump raising gang vocal that finishes this absolute masterpiece.

Maximum Effort is so good it made me drop many f-bombs. With a band having so many different members and influences, there's a lot going on here but the amazing chemistry this band have make it all work. It doesn’t feel over-the-top and nothing feels like it could or should have been cut. This will be one of those albums you listen to a hundred times and still find something new to love. There are so many incredible bands in the UK ska scene, I think JSN just may have eclipsed anything that's been put out over the past few years. I know ska isn't for everyone and if you're not a fan of the genre but somehow find yourself reading this (thanks!), I urge you to check out Maximum Effort. Wowzas, it's good!

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This review was written by Colin Clark.

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