|Monkey Jacket - The Don'ts of Motivational Speaking|
Release Date: 2005
Record Label: Unsigned
With a band name like Monkey Jacket, and an equally amusing album cover, it's hard not to expect much less than a musical circus act. Royal Oak, Michigan's quartet has risen to the challenge, and it's safe to say they faired quite well. The Don'ts of Motivational Speaking showcases not only the bands impresse blend of keyboard-driven, ska-tinged pop-punk, but excites the listener at every opportunity with enjoyable, unexpected surprises. Although Monkey Jacket don't quite offer material that's bound to break down the borders of music history, they've created a ten track offering that's worthy of every listen.
The bands blend of quirky ska harmonies and pop melodies mix nicely to formulate their overall sound. On "How to Rule the World", the albums jaunty infectious opener, the band shows their unique incorporation of the keyboard into the mix. Where far too many bands are using synth to stray in a worn-out, Motion City Soundtrack-esque direction, Monkey Jacket successfully manage to blend the keyboard into their own original, pop-punk influenced style. On the other hand, the humorously titled "Girls Are Mutants" draws instead from the bands catalogue of ska influences. The guitar upstrokes, which appear in a fair majority of the tracks the release has to offer, create an infectious, danceable vibe that is bound to get listeners moving. However, on the records fifth track, "Hello Solo", the band strikes what is positively solid gold. From the raw, opening, uplifting chord progression, to the sing-along gem of a chorus, the track is addicting to the last note. Lead vocalist Mick Maslowski's voice is powerful and edgy, but soothing all the same. Despite the fact that the track, and rather the disc as a whole, doesn't offer much in terms of striking musicianship, it's evident that each member knows their way around their rightful instrument, and each performs quite magnificently. The tracks breakdown, which serves up a humorous conversation between the group, before rolling perfectly back into the last chorus run, is an undeniable high-point and adds character to the song that far too many sing-alongs lack.
Skipping ahead to "Tough Luck", the albums seventh track, Maslowski (who also takes up the duties of resident guitarist) and bassist Justin Kirshman each offer impressive, driving progressions, which sail effortlessly into another radio-friendly chorus. Saxophonist/Keyboardist Andrew Schuster's performances on both instruments are equally impressive, and undoubtedly assists the band in successfully finding their personal, musical groove. On "Tease Me Please Me", Schuster's opening melody is instantly reminiscent of a classic, 80's synth-rock gem, whilst the track itself is rather enjoyable as a whole.
Despite the bands lack of effort put forth in taking musical risks, it's evident this well-arranged quartet has designed a successful, uplifting, and consistently powerful formula for creating infectious ska-punk tunes. Additionally, and what is extremely rare on an independent release, the overall production and sound quality on The Don'ts of Motivational Speaking is absolutely fabulous. With their debut record, Monkey Jacket not only serve up luminous anthems time and time again, but repeatedly do a fantastic job of capturing the listeners attention from the opening track to the last. All professionalism aside, if these four musicians don't recieve label attention in the near future, i'll start a label and sign them myself. Independent ska-punk has never sounded so good. Michigan best be proud, for Monkey Jacket are here to stay.