Since Bay Area punk band Rancid scared up a ska-punk crossover hit with "Time Bomb," the trend for new, or "third-wave" ska acts is to blend punk and hard-core with their music.
Already, acts such as Goldfinger and Dancehall Crashers have jumped on the bandwagon and have made small splashes. But in the Midwest, some bands actually preceded the new style. They've only begun to get noticed by fans and critics outside of their home states, though.On its second album, Kansas act MU330 (named for a music class some of its members had in high school) has gotten away from the funk-inspired ska that marred its debut CD, "Press," and has gone for a more streamlined, horn-heavy punk-ska that is more in keeping with the band's personality.
Gone is original lead singer John Kavanaugh, replaced by Jason Nelson, who tries fewer vocal tricks but has a more than adequate range to pull off the harder-and-faster punk numbers, as well as the bouncier ska ones.
Guitarist Dan Potthast, who wrote most of the new material, also shares vocal chores, including taking the leads on "Hang Tuff Hold Tight" and "Curse," two of the album's more melodic songs.
"Chumps on Parade" does have a couple of clinkers, but that's immaterial when it also features such gems as "The Punisher/-Downtown," which starts as a driving punk instrumental and eventually segues into a swinging ska ditty.
Slapstick, on the other hand, does one thing - ultra-fast ska with the stylings on pop-punk or "emo-core." But the Illinois six-piece does it extremely well.
Just when songs such as "Cheat to Win" and "Almost Punk Enough" sound like they're getting bogged down in sappy or whiny punk that would make Green Day proud, the band's fabulous horn section chimes in with enough brass to make them danceable rather than mopey.
And "Good Times Gone" actually acknowledges the fact that even though its protagonist doesn't want to have to grow up and get a job, he's going to have to if he wants to leave home. What's surprising is that the song remains optimistic rather than melancholy.
Such honesty in the band's lyrics helps the CD out immeasurably, especially since some of the numbers sound so much like others. A little more variety would have made it even better, but "Lookit!" is still a strong debut.