2 Skinnee J’s
Dolphins Vs. Unicorns Records
Question: What can make suffering through a Sugar Ray set with screaming twelve-year-old girls and Mark McGrath working on poses for his next Dr. Pepper commercial worth it? Hint: It wasn’t the set from Everlast, the ex-House of Pain rapper who can’t sing his way out of a soap bubble but unfortunately tries nonetheless. Answer: 2 Skinnee J’s. I had the privilege of stumbling upon Brooklyn’s favorite new rock-hoppers in Manhattan a few years back, and despite the overall suckiness of the aforementioned headliners, the J’s not only salvaged the night, but opened the door to a whole genre of rap-rock I’d never considered before. Namely, it was silly, not the least bit self-conscious, and unapologetic in its over-the-top pyrotechnics. Let me tell you how they did it: First, they wore Devo-style red unitards. Tight unitards. Then they started playing epic-sounding rock symphonies—we’re talking Star Trek chords. And then, unexpectedly, they started rapping. There was a keytar involved, and let us not forget the “manager,” Stumpy, whose sole purpose seemed to be to get drunk and smoke onstage before slapping his own stylishly-suited ass as the rest of the band chanted, “Smack that ass, Stumpy.” Rare is the rock-rap band with a decent sense of humor, and this band has it in spades. Case in point: The band’s latest release, Sexy Karate, features a song titled “Friends Don’t Let Friends Listen to Rap-Metal.” Sure enough, with the comedic timing of a Conan O’Brien-era Simpsons episode, the next track sounds suspiciously like rap-metal. Unlike past J’s releases, Sexy Karate should have mass appeal. If fans of the Clash, Public Enemy and Beck got together for a night of debauchery, Sexy Karate would give each something to dig on. Or, to localize things for you Missoula rock aficionados, imagine the twisting space rock of Volumen with someone rapping over it. That said, there’s honestly no one-sentence summation of 2 Skinnee J’s, but Sexy Karate is definitely party music. This Brooklyn rap-rock outfit will draw inevitable Beastie Boys comparisons, but, truth be told, they’re putting out music more creative than anything the Beasties have done in years. The latest album is also more friendly to non-“insider” audiences than past albums. Rapper J Guevara (an appropriate handle, as he declares the J’s “the people’s movement of rock”) ditches the Brooklyn-specific chants such as “You live in 212, I live in 718”—an homage to New York area codes that might leave non-NYC listeners scratching their temples—in favor of more universal subject matter, including meditations on partying, war and love. The tracks are arranged in such a manner that Sexy Karate steadily builds to its climax, the closing rap/emo (emo!?!) anthem “Next Big Thing.” It’s all taken to the next level in a stage show featuring spandex and melodramatic chicanery, but the live playfulness of the J’s comes through loud and clear on Sexy Karate.
Check it out.Cobra Verde
If 2 Skinnee J’s are out there on the edge of space, the final frontier, Cleveland’s Cobra Verde takes the path more traveled. The rock adage that “it’s all been done before” holds some degree of truth, and with this in mind, style can become as important as originality. Cleveland’s Cobra Verde have style, even if their latest release, Easy Listening, is just that. You usually know approximately where the band is going, which, given the right mood, can be a comfort (particularly if you’ve just watched some ambient noise-rockers piddle off bizarre phrases that never make it to the page you’re looking for when you just want to rock). There’s something blissfully dated about this album. Even though it was released this year, everything from the lyrics to the fuzz-drenched guitars to the album art leave the impression that these songs have been around the block a few times, and are none the worse for wear. The opening track, “Riot Industry,” sets the tone: it’s a catchy, rambunctious rocker, without frills or forays into the esoteric. An overt J. Mascis/Dinosaur Jr influence makes its presence felt on Easy Listening, and according to the liner notes—hey, whaddya know—some of that guitar work actually is J Mascis. “Do you think we’re whores in the making?” sing Cobra Verde, followed by the lyric, “well, I don’t care.” The music of Easy Listening might be shopworn, but it revels in its tawdry garishness. Cobra Verde offer some big ol’ rock choruses, particularly on frenzied, crunchy numbers like “My Name is Nobody” and “Modified Frankenstein.” It’s a dirty sound, and it doesn’t seem to care if you respect it in the morning, because chances are, should you experience it live, it will rock your world plenty for one night. Getting down to brass tacks, save your Easy Listening money for the admission price to see the band live—plus a few drinks. A prodigious rock show of fist-pumping, heart-thumping good times likely awaits.
Cobra Verde play at Jay’s Upstairs Monday, June 23.