Nashville, for better or worse, is not a punk rock town. Yes, there are punk people, punk bands and punk shows, and there have been since roughly the time of punk's inception. But punk is not exactly the sound/culture/lifestyle with the greatest presence in the city. The history is there — Jason and the Scorchers and The Teen Idols come to mind — but sometimes it's tough to see the punk trees in our flannel-and-fedora forest of a music scene. And it doesn't help that national aboveground punk has basically been reduced to a dude in his 40s releasing triple-album rock operas and throwing tantrums because a corporate-radio-sponsored festival cut his time short — it can be a sad, often frustrating state of affairs for the punks who walk among us. But then, every once in a while, an album like Stuck Lucky's Their Them comes along, kicks us in teeth and reminds us that punk isn't about popularity, money or any of the shit that consumes our music landscape.
Stuck Lucky has been around for well over a decade — roughly a century or two in punk years — operating blissfully outside of the city's mainstream music culture, crafting a peculiar and unique strain of horn-driven punk at all-ages shows and scummy punk clubs like the late (and maybe lamented) Muse. While Stuck Lucky may still be tagged with the "ska" label — their earlier recordings, like 2006's Hate the Light of Day, are direct if scrappier descendents of the '90s ska revival — on Their Them the boys essentially obliterate any genre walls they may have once stood behind. The horns veer between an at-light-speed "The Guns of Navarone" and Spike Jones-in-a-mosh-pit as the drums blast and guitars shred with a complexity and emotional tension that harkens back to the era of Rites of Spring and Ian MacKaye's Embrace. You could call it post-skacore, for lack of a better term, but that doesn't really capture the intensity of Stuck Lucky's Whirling Dervish of a sound. "Punk as Fuck" is probably the only appropriate term.
The title track starts with swirling drums, swiftly picked strings and an otherworldly whistle that evokes a Gong-covering Klezmer band before slipping into a jazzy, almost-drunken swing that serves as a backdrop for some of the scariest-sounding vocals this side of Satan's answering machine. "Blood of Snakes" lands closest to ska, but only if that ska had been stolen from its crib by gypsies and raised to be a master of the Black Arts — this is not the cheery, ironic, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing ska of the Clinton Era; it's something darker. Album opener "Darker by Dusk" starts on a cheery note with galloping guitars and triumphant horns before taking a turn for the malignant and menacing, then transitioning into the Ennio Morricone-meets-Millions of Dead Cops blast of "Mortality" and the snarling "Come as You Like." From start to finish, Their Them gives a hearty one-finger salute to convention, to conformity and to everybody who doesn't think punk rock is alive and kicking in Music City.
Friday's release show will also serve as a Toys for Tots benefit.