Album: Grim Luck! – Grim Luck

Add this to a long list of injustices. Despite existing for nearly 20 years, somehow I had never heard of this band before this week. Grim Luck dropped their first album in 13 years at the start of May and a friend posted it with other ska albums that were released that week. I scrawled it down to “check out if I have time”, and didn’t think anything of it. A couple weeks passed and I thought I should check out some of those bands I’d never heard of. Several tracks later, I was sending the album to other friends. Holy shit. Yes. You need to hear this. I need to review this. What is even going on here???

Advertised as a ska album, I was curious where they would fall on the ska spectrum, but I think they fall off the beaten path and expand the genre in yet more creative ways. This is a ska- opera, but the influences are everywhere, from klezmer to punk to video game music and musicals, to things so far outside of my wheelhouse that I couldn’t dream to name them. However, I love every single second of this album. It feels like Hans Gruber and the Die Hards made a concept album with Oingo Boingo- and I say that with the highest praise for everyone involved. 

This album tells a single story, as if it were narrating a stage play with 12 acts, but every act is told from a different character’s point of view, often recapping the previous event and then telling what happens next, in a story of an unwilling queen, a band of pirates pillaging the throne, the chase from the royal guards/ military/ pigs, existential crisis, and an epic battle. The entire album is a reckless ball of chaotic energy and masterful production fired from a cannon and careening through the air and blasting into my ear holes.

Normally when I review an album I write about several of the songs and talk about the elements of the songs that make them unique or make me love them, but this album is different, and deserves a different treatment- so allow me to ramble instead. First, if you’re a ska gatekeeper, you aren’t going to call this ska. I don’t care. You’re probably too uptight to enjoy something this magnificent anyway. I love everything on this. The slow dirge of the Madarian Death Dance, the instrumentation, the punk rock interpretation of the song Gaston sings in Beauty and the Beast as the band leads a drunken assault on the city burning and pillaging, the amazing percussions throughout, or the orchestral gang vocals. 

My favorite lyrics are probably “Have you ever looked into the face of God, well he looked me in my eyes and said there’s no soul left to rot” as the band is on the run, narrowly escaping their would be captors. The entire pacing of this part as the recant their crimes of robbing from an aristocracy that was too inebriated to stop them from taking their spoils.

“The Island” is probably my favorite single song, as the chase comes to an end, the anti-heroes realize their end is nie and they turn to fight, but choose to face their end with the same reckless abandon that defined their crimes on the Islands of Appetite- drinking the poisons of excess and engaging in the sins of the sexiest horn lines on the whole album. 

The music is so fucking good on this album. Bass lines that are not buried in the music, keys, drums (and plenty of other percussions) horns driving every song. Masterful pacing and tension building and resolution. The pace through most of the album is set to get you in a high speed chase if you drive past a cop on the highway while listening- only to be slowed by the aforementioned dirge in the “Madarian Death Dance” as the band are killed or captured and face their end.

But like every great play the second act foreshadows the twist in the penultimate act as “Grim Bulgar” comes to play out. The final song, “No! Tomorrow!” is the masterful denouement- nearly 9 minutes of beautiful resolution. By far the shortest 8 and a half minute track I’ve ever heard. While I acknowledge how absurd it would be to make any comparison to Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s ability to transition across styles, paces, and genres is seldom matched. This is exactly how you end an album and bring a story to a close.

 Written by Gimpleg