Track Review: Mrs. Skannotto - The Outlier


Mrs. Skannotto

The Outlier


The Outlier is available here:

April, 2014

Rock-Ska; Punk; Reggae


Rochester, N.Y.

AFTER assessing Brooklyn-based act The Falling Birds (yesterday) it is…

time to step across New York- and over to Rochester.  Whilst Brookyln’s The Falling Birds provided a slice of ‘60s Rock-cum-Blues (with their single Sweet Things That Kill); today I am looking at Mrs. Skannotto- a band that differs in quite a few ways.  I shall get to that soon, but for now, there are a few issues (that need discussing).  New York is among the most productive cities- when it comes to great new acts—and is showcasing some wonderful acts.  In my previous review, I compared (the U.S.) to the U.K.: the two nations are stamping out some terrific music; the U.S. is slightly ahead of the game- when it comes to the overall quality.  I am amazed by the range of sounds and genres being explored; the types of artists you can find- the U.S. is a fascinating area to behold.  Whether it is the larger population (we are a smaller and less populous nation) or the diversity of geography- between the 50 states, America is a lot more varied- but one thing is for sure: more eyes should be trained here.  I know people who are emigrating to the U.S.A.: favouring the crowds and opportunities; there is a lot more lure for the new musician- a better way of life perhaps.  Maybe it is the crowds that attract people; the fact (that the U.S. is a richer nation) or something else- it is a tempting life.  I am aware new acts face the same struggles British ones do- with regards financial stability and recognition- but there are benefits to the American way: chief among them is the range of opportunities.  Large and influential venues; a host of wonderful and supportive musicians- it is a much more ripe and stable music economy.  Out of this, fantastic music arises: New York is feeling this prosperity; among its five boroughs (some of music’s best) are being spawned- I am fascinated seeing what N.Y. is summoning up.  Before I step away from U.S. music- to interview too brilliant female artists (one Maltese; the other German), I am pleased to discover Mrs. Skannotto:

Joe Harmon – Vocals
Mike Frederick – Guitar
Justin Lloyd – Trumpet
Dan Carter – Bass
Evan Dobbins – Trombone
Alex Bochetto – Drums

“Rochester, NY alternative ska/rock outfit Mrs. Skannotto is a band that’s hard to classify. Their distinct sound reflects the eclectic musical backgrounds and styles of each band member.  Vocalist Joe Harmon explains, “We spend a lot of time trying to explore the boundaries of what genres like ska, reggae, rock and punk can do, mixing in elements of jazz, funk, and classic and progressive rock. We all have a wide range of tastes and influences, and bring those influences in to the writing process and our performances.”  Originally formed in 1998, the current lineup has been together for 4 years. The band’s commitment to touring has kept them on the road for much of that time, and it’s paying off. Harmon says, “We’ve learned a lot about playing and writing with one another since this lineup first came together. We keep getting tighter as time goes on.”  Mrs. Skannotto is currently holed up in the studio at Hope Alive Media in Farmington NY, where they are reuniting with audio engineer Matt Goodwin and sound mixer Matthew Saccuccimorano, who they worked with on last year’s ‘Outlier’ LP.  When pressed for hints as to what fans can expect from the new record, bassist Dan Carter says, “I’d say the focus will be on tight compositions, and further developing new ground explored on the last album. The music itself is different. We keep evolving musically.”  Mrs. Skannotto will announce spring/summer tour dates soon.”

Although The Outlier is an ‘older track’- their L.P.’s title track was released last year- I was keen to introduce the band; get people aware of their music- as there are no movements mooted.  When a new release does come, I am keen to jump on that; the Rochester-based band is among the most engaging and innovative (in the U.S.).  The way they fuse genres; skip from one to the other- whilst keeping their unique voice- is to be applauded: few acts are as daring and bold; few can handle such a move- Mrs. Skannotto are fearless and striking.  I am not sure where they name derives- it has been bugging me for a while- but I am impressed by their entire make-up: their official website is informative and full; they have a huge spread of (music-sharing/social media) sites; their music is bold and stunning- a band that deserve long-term affection.  Having been formed in 1998, the New York band has survived the hurdles of music: they are clearly dedicated to their craft; have a dedicated and loyal fan-base- and intent on making music (for many years to come).  Whatever they have planned for this/next year; whether an E.P. or album is mooted- I suggest you keep your ears to the ground.  The U.S. media has latched onto their merits; we in the U.K. are less familiar with them- I hope that soon changes.

It is pretty hard to compare Mrs. Skannotto with anyone else: I cannot think of any other act that does things like them.  The best thing one can do is compare the band with themselves- see how they have grown and developed.  Burning Inferno of Fire was released back in 2002- seems like an age, doesn’t it? – but showcased what a band they are.  The title is not a boast or misdirection: it is indicative of the music contained within.  From the very first track (Just a Game) the band are off to the races: a Ska-Reggae fusion that witnesses the band in full flight; a delirious little song- something that remains in the mind.  Tracks like Ordinary Girl continue this sound- this track looks at love and its realities.  White Man on Vacation and What I Wanna Be are among the album’s highlights: they show the band at their tightest and most striking.  Their debut tended to stick with one sound/projection: that Ska-cum-Reggae vibe; trumpets featured (in most tracks) and the boys crafted their identity.  Bet You Didn’t See This Coming was released a few years later (in 2006) and saw a sea-change- with the introduction of heavier sounds.  Although not a complete about-face, there was a leaning towards Rock.  Songs like Some Dude rocked harder; saw the band step into new arenas- and widen their spectrum.  2010’s The Long Dark Road augmented and emphasised this: not only were more heavy edges instilled; the band sound tighter and more confident here- the songs more vibrant and stunning. Girlfriend is s stunning blast; a song that never relents or slows its pace.  Get Off the Fence– as is customary to an extend- starts with a brief (Rock) blast- before heading into Ska territory.  Although Mrs. Skannotto will always be about Ska/Reggae (at their heart) they have started to become a little more urgent and direct- each new release sees the songs get harder and more insistent.  All These Evolutions (released two years ago) the album is more mature and serious- than previous releases- and sees the band tackle the modern world- from politics and the state of the nation; through to personal relationships.  More catchy and impressive- the hooks and compositions are more detailed and complex- the band hit their peak here.  Following on from that triumph, the boys stepped up to top gear: Outliersees them change skins; up the ante- and present something wonderful.  Whereas previous cuts have featured mostly Ska and Reggae vibes- a lighter touch on most tracks- here they are harsher and angrier.  There is that shift towards guitar-heavy sounds; they have not abandoned their ethics.  If anything, the ‘new direction; works wonders: their music (on this album) is their most ripe and receptive; the songs are more nuanced and stunning- adding Grunge vibes into their melting pot.  Tracks like The Zealot put you in mind of Nirvana and Foo Fighters.  The Losing Side is more teasing and slow-burning; you think it will erupt in sea of strings- before the trumpets cut through the mist.  Entropy is a magisterial and upbeat swagger: a song that sounds like a carnival standard; designed to get people united.  Mixing Salsa and Ska, it is an insatiable cut.  Games Without Frontiers is a swansong with a kick: a dazzling little song that perfectly brings the album to a close.

The band have matured and developed with each new album/release.  The songs have become more confident and assured; their performances more commanding and passionate- their range and sense of ambition heightened.  The biggest change is the complexity and compositions: they have become fuller and more intelligent; by introducing new sounds and ideas, their music is fuller and more electrifying- highlighted on their latest album.

Having experienced Mrs. Skannotto’s previous output- and knowing their sound quite well- I ‘sort of’ knew what to expect- when it came to their track, The Outlier.  A few quick blasts (of guitar and drums) and my expectations were turned on their head: the sound is very much a mixture of Punk and Grunge; little bits of Classic-Rock in the mix.  Without trumpets and anything elliptical and flavoursome; what you have it an intense and hard-pushing rattle: an introduction that sweeps up the feet; takes the breath by surprise- and knock the senses into hyper-drive.  The initial moments put me in mind of (the likes of) The Offspring and their ilk- although my ears may be way off- and there is a catchiness and addictiveness (to the opening notes).  The vocals rush in charged and determined; filled with venom and direction- our hero is in no mood to compromise.  The initial lyrics have oblique edges; you are never sure what is being referenced- opening line “I’m gonna wait ‘til the moment comes” is an open-for-interpretation sort of thought.  Essentially, the guys have gone straight in with the chorus: usually bands do verse-chorus-verse; it can be predictable- here, we launch straight into the chorus; taking the listener by surprise.  Trying to catch your thoughts, the words tumble and savage; the band are tight and focused- the initial thoughts are thrown with little abandon; no time for reflection and pause.  In my mind, our hero is talking about a revolution; taking a chance to rise up- perhaps the fervency of the vocals influenced that thought.  By the end of the first verse (well, chorus really) there is an interlude of brass: it parps and parades with like a headless chicken; it dives and swoons- creating something both head-spinning and uplifting.  Not just a chance for a break, the musical parable is fascinating in itself: emotive and scenic, the band demonstrates how seamlessly they can shift- going from full-on snarl (to a more composed refrain) in the space of seconds.  When our man is back at the microphone, his thoughts turn to politics (“What’s that you’ve signed? /Are you out of your mind?”).  Perhaps we are looking at love and marriage?  That sense of ambiguity makes the song fascinating and compelling: my mind always treads towards the first interpretation.  The subject/subjects have wasted sovereignty; wasted opportunities and compromised integrity- patience and pride have been evaporated.  That chorus soon swings back in- with the added interjection of “I don’t want to hate what I’ve become/I’ll wait ‘til the war is won.”  Those images of politicians selling-out; wars being waged- and the population revolting and reveling- gets inside your head; the direction of the composition/vocal moulds your thoughts- and gets you in that mindset.  Whether perturbed and disgruntled by political in the U.S. – or overwhelmed by the state of the world- the band deliver a hailstorm of fire; a fast-talking riff that propels the lyrics forward.  What the band do is split the song into two: the verses have trumpet-laden spirit (tied with anxious lyrics); the chorus is guitar/drum/bass-led and more direct.  The effect is neither predictable nor boring: you are constantly fascinating and intrigued by the formation; your body and feet never stop moving.  The song looks at alliances and allegiances: the insanity of pairing up (with venomous allies); boycotting reason for something less pure and rational- leaving the country is jeopardy.  Once more- and as the song continues- half of my brain goes towards love and friendships: perhaps a broken romance is being assessed; maybe a former friend is being given a dressing-down.  The lyrics are intelligent and deep; simple and direct- a lot of attention and thought has (gone into them).  As hooked-into the verses as you are, it’s that chorus that really hits home: it is quotable and sing-along; smashing and stunning.  In terms of definition, an outlier is something that lies outside the main group (for example an island distant from a group; a cow separate from the herd).  When thinking about the song, the word could synonymise dislocation and loneliness: feeling separate from the government; left in the dark and exposed- this can also be applied to relations and broken friendships.  Thought-provoking and constantly engaging, the song does what it sets out to do: it gets the listener thinking and supporting; attacks its subjects impressively- and makes a valid point to boot.  Towards the final stages, the song starts to calm and restrain: trumpet bonds with guitar (they tango with one another); the band create a musical line that is complex and emotive- something upbeat and peace-making.  Reggae/Ska-tinged, there are stabs of guitar: it keeps the listener on their toes and always second-guessing.  With one further introduction of the chorus, the song comes down to land- and lands with a bang.

Filled with vivid images and vital messages, The Outlier is a song that fascinating and compels the mind.  Whatever your interpretation- and whatever the song actually symbolizes- there is a large political objective.  Images of war and back-stabbing; poor ties and deceit are laced in: few can ignore the passion and genuineness of these lyrics; the way they are delivered.  That authenticity is in no small part down to the band themselves: the performance is consistently excellent and spellbinding.  When the band are heavy and domineering (in the chorus especially) you can hear that passion and determination.  When the trumpet comes out; the mood starts to relent slightly- and something less rushing comes in- and they sound effortless and natural.  Lesser bands would struggle to blend (two rather disparate) strands into a cohesive whole: Mrs. Skannotto are masters of their craft; they weld their instruments, lyrics and expressions with no issues or gaps- everything is tight and stunning.  The brass performances (trombone in addition to trumpet) give the song a great sense of energy and lightness: making sure proceedings do not get too heavy and foreboding.  Exceptionally delivered, the brass gives the song heart and smile; mingles perfectly (with the other instruments) to give the song its unique edge.  With the bass guiding the song forward; keeping it on the straight and narrow- and injecting a lot of melody, force and rhythm into things- it commands with distinction.  The guitar work is exciting and jostling throughout: whipping up plenty of anger and attack, they never sound too forceful and directionless- the riffs and guitar lines add huge weight and direction to the track.  With a percussion sound that not only blends with the rest of the band- and supports the other players- but stands in its own right; you have an exceptional band here- playing at the height of their powers.  The lead-off track from their Outlier album; The Outlier is an anthem for the modern age: a contemporary and ever-relevant theme; it is a song everyone can relate to- and everyone will be deduced by.  A lot of bands- when they dabble in politics and these matters- can come off a bit short.  For every American Idiot (some would argue that album is filled with irony) there is Drones; for every Bob Dylan there is a, well…every other political singer.  Mrs. Skannotto have a voice that needs hearing; words that need to be aired- the way they complete this is impressive indeed.  Their lyrics are not ironic or cringing; they are not disingenuous and cloying- they hit the mark and do their work.  If you have not investigated The Outlier, then I suggest you rectify this now- a song that deserves a huge audience.

Having just played Spokane (in Washington) the boys head to North Carolina and Florida: far from home, they are taking their music across the country; checking-in down south- taking their music across the land.  It would be good to see the band come to England- I say this about every foreign act I review- but I mean it: their sounds would be welcome here; we have few bands like them- it would give influence and inspiration to our up-and-comers.  The Outlier is not a typical Mrs. Skannotto slice: if you hear this track alone, you get a false impression- it is not the ‘true sound’ of the group.  The best way to understand the boys is by investigating their back catalogue- and their L.P. at the very least- to get a true representation.  When you come away from listening (to their music) there is that feeling of happiness.  When the band are heavier and pressing- like they are on The Outlier– there is no sense of suffocation  or divisiveness- the band always make music to unite the masses.  Before I conclude, it may be worth mentioning the band as a whole: where they are headed now- what is next.  Their last L.P. came out last year; at the moment they are touring- would be pleased of a rest when they are done.  In addition to taking in- the splendours and many landscapes- of the U.S., when they finish touring, the band will have to make a decision: will they create a new L.P. or E.P.?  Outlier was celebrated and championed upon its release; the fans and public took to it; the range of sounds was amazing- an album that resonated hugely.  It would be great to hear a new album from them; maybe an E.P. in the meantime- I guess new music will be (on the band’s) minds.  It is not the band’s sheer energy and passion that grips- although that is one of the main assets- but their diversity and genre-fuse motifs.  A lot of acts- that walk the line between Ska and Reggae; Rock and Indie- tend to come off as forced and insincere- not the case with Mrs. Skannotto.  When they are in hot-and-heavy territory, their sounds are exhilarating and blinding: it reminds you of the legends of Rock; among the best contemporary sounds- few bands can pen a riff like them.  That said, when they introduce trumpets and a more jubilant tone; then you get a completely different experience- something upbeat and swinging; it catches the brain firmly.  Few bands are as replete and commanding; the New York band does not rest with one idea- their music changes course and projection; they like to subvert expectations at every turn.  What you get is a band that has a long future ahead of them- hardly a surprise they have survived (and flourished) for 17 years now.  If you are not familiar with them; have not heard a single note- now is the time to do so.  In the U.K., we have a few ‘diverse’ bands- that can integrate genres and styles- and consistent talent.  To my mind, Mrs. Skannotto are among the most impressive bands out of the U.S. – definitely keep your eyes alive.  What the next year has in store is anyone’s guess- of course; touring will be among the top priorities.  I do hope they release a new L.P. – although that will take time to craft- as there is demand a-plenty.  For now, investigate the wonders of Outlier; check out The Outlier (and its incredible sound) and follow the band closely.  If we ask nicely enough, they may…

COME and play Britain.

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