On Friday the 13th Eric Daino released a DIY ska album titled Book Of Spells. He wrote, produced, released and played almost all of the instruments himself. Without the outreach of a label, it easily slipped under a lot of people’s radar, even among people who are pretty big fans of the genre. While Daino had a handful of other solo albums, I had not heard any of them and really didn’t know what to expect. Eric Daino is also the lead for the Holophonics, another ska group, I knew enough to assume this would sound different- otherwise there isn’t much motivation to release it under a different name and as a solo project where the workload would be much heavier.
The cover art for Book of Spells is drawn by Josh Frees and is mostly purples, and has a witch in the woods with mystical animals casting spells from a spell book by candlelight. Paired with the Friday the 13th of October release date, and you are given a sense of the mood for the music.
Playing the first track only provides confirmation of the mood that was implied. We are immediately met with an instrumental track of upstrokes over some haunting organ sounds from the keyboard with plenty of horns, but nothing too upbeat or poppy. Towards the end of the track we get a chorus of howls to add to the ambiance. This track is titled “The Black Wind Howls” which, while fitting for the ambiance, is also a reference to Chrono Trigger- a theme that is common for Daino, as the Holophonics last album title and first song from that album were also references to the game.
The entire album is far from instrumental though, and the album immediately shifts towards other themes. The next track is “Protection Spell”, which is immediately more upbeat, loaded with upstrokes, and begging you to move your feet. The song is a plea for protection from hatred, bigotry, and homophobia, and for people to be left alone to be exactly who they are, and features an exciting a really unexpected guitar solo. This flows, both instrumentally and thematically, flawlessly into “Q Tone Ska”- which begins by carrying the chords from the previous track, but shifts from upbeat ska punk into something with both 2 tone and new-tone influences. The verses begin with stripped-down spoken work over bass and drums bringing focus to the vocals with great bass riffs between each line in the beginning of each verse and a catchy chorus. Meanwhile the song is about empowerment and community for everyone, but focused on the queer community.
One of the highlights of the album is Ali Culotta from Stop the Presses doing backing vocals on Dregs. Dregs is the least ska song on the album and much slower than most of the album as a mood shift, and when Culotta comes in with a duet part it adds so much texture to the vocals and immediately grabs your attention immediately. As powerful as it is though, the real beauty, for me, is that it perfectly sets up what is my favorite track on the album. The slow sad song about depression ends with the most beautiful vocals on the album so your ears are perked up perfectly for “Hex the Police”.
“Hex the Police” features Chris Ruckus in an anti-fascist, anti-capitalist anthem with great, aggressive hardcore verses broken up by a melodic chorus that will have the whole world singing “Fuck the police, tax the church, guillotine the rich…”. The 2nd verse features hardcore vocals again, but this time they are laid over a great reggae-inspired rhythm on the keyboard, adding more texture to the song.
The entire album is far better than I expected. Great horns, keys, and rhythms. The influences change throughout the song in ways I would not expect on an album written largely by one person instead of a full band. This is one of the biggest surprise albums I’ve encountered this year. You can pick it up on Bandcamp here and you can name your own price for the digital download ň.
Written by Gimpleg
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