In the third installment of my top 25 albums of the year, we are looking at my #5 album of 2023. To see what albums came in between #25- #6, look in the articles from the last two days. Stay tuned for the rest of the week to find my top 4 albums of 2023.
5. Common Sense Kid: A for Effort, E for Attainment
In 2019, England’s Common Sense Kid didn’t know anything about writing or playing music. He didn’t even know how to play a guitar. According to him, he had a midlife crisis right as the COVID lockdowns hit. He decided to spend his time learning guitar which led to him writing music and learning how to mix. Three years later, in March of 2023 he was already dropping his debut LP, A for Effort, E for Attainment, a unique blending of ska, jungle, dubstep, drum and bass, reggae, and rap in ways that I don’t think anyone has tried before, and executed this blend with a masterful execution.
The album ranges from songs that are much more drum and bass or dubstep to tracks that lean much heavier into the ska and reggae aspects, but the blend is present in every track. As a completely DIY artist, and a one man band, all of the music was recorded, dubbed, and mixed at home, but you would never know it from the top notch production quality.
The subject matter on the album shifts between personal to political, can be serious, but also self degrading and inside jokes made into songs. It’s both lighthearted, and very heavy hearted, depending on the track- but what makes this album stand out is definitely its unique blend of genres and its ability to take ska and stretch it in new ways, expanding the genre far beyond the three waves that people have long associated with the genre.
The album starts with “Monsters”, a somewhat eerie sounding track whose first 30 seconds are dominated by a slow spooky organ and we are taken to images of a horror movie scene building tension. Organs and a melodica and the more traditional musical arrangements with the sounds of a synth playing deeper tones blend with lyrics about anxiety and fears manifested as literal monsters and nightmares made real are rapped to flesh out this initial track and it feels incredible. As far as opening songs, I love this. It introduces what to expect on the album, and it allows me to close my eyes and see a different world created on the song.
The second track on the album breaks away from that style. It starts with a piano and drum beat, that is eventually paired with a sunth rising action that builds the tension and explodes into the primary rhythm of the song, fast paces, quick drums, ska upstrokes one the guitar. The pacing of the music is constantly shifting, building and resolving. The layering is excellent, always giving the impression of rising, accelerating driving forward. There is a bridge that feels like the max tension, no longer rising, but at the verge of breaking. This was the pre-release single, and there is a good reason for it, when you hear this song, it amps you up. The way it builds and carries throughput the song, but never loses control is brilliant.
“Here for the Long Haul” is a slower ska song with the upstrokes being mostly one the keys and a lot of fun guitar play while the lyrics are sung as opposed to rapped, while telling the story of spending an evening with a romantic partner. The front half of this album seems to be highlighting that Common Sense Kid will not be pigeon holed. There are some bands where you can hear 2 notes to a new, unreleased song, and immediately recognize what band it is. While all of these songs have common threads that make them uniquely Common Sense Kid, and have the techno and drum and bass influences, that should do nothing to imply that they all sound the same. If anything, it opens up a broader range to experiment with.
That being said, the 4th song takes that to the next level. “Fake Tweed Dad” is the most traditional ska punk song on the album, while singing about gentrification and rich white Londoners buying up the rural property and running up the cost of living in the country pricing the locals out of their own homes. The synthesizer is used more sparingly and adds texture and builds and resolves tension through the song, but for the most part, this is a standard ska punk song that has biting social commentary, and is one of my favorite songs on the album.
“Warning: Dystopia” is a heavily rapped more synth and dub driven ska song that juxtaposed nicely against the previous track. It has heavier, faster guitars blending in rock music to the mix all while having a dystopian narrative through the song as made obvious by the title of the track.
The next two tracks are mostly to play with and highlight his sound. “What is this techno stuff” is a techno track that features the only lyrics in the form of a sample from a podcast where Matt Vest of the On the Upbeat podcast jokingly asked that question to Common Sense Kid during an interview after his debut single. CSK ran with the question and turned it into an entire techno song. Following that is a short, guitar heavy almost heavy metal song called “Joey thinks I should clean my Guitar” that originated from a Tweet where a friend (Joey Oblivion) made fun of his guitar when CSK tweeted a close up image of himself playing the guitar.
The next track is a cover of the Gorillaz “Tomorrow Comes Today”. It’s a great cover for this album, highlighting some of the biggest influences that shaped the style, while also allowing him to highlight the differences in style between the two and allowing him to make it his own. I’m not normally a huge fan of cover songs on albums, but for a new artist that is expanding a genre of music, bringing in something that influences you and can highlight what you are trying to do, and blending it with your own styles makes a lot of sense. It tells the listeners what you are doing and gives them a lens through which to interpret what you are doing.
The final song on the album is one of my favorites. It’s a slower, two tone ska song blended with the same styles as the rest of the album. It’s a sad, heartbreaking look at the world, inspired by a story in the news about a child murdered in his hometown, and both the lyrics and the tone reflect the heartbreak as he sings about a need to press reset and start again. After the first two verses there is a bridge of samples taken from news broadcasts about war and propaganda and it creates the dystopian reality that we live in before returning to the chorus, begging one last time, to press reset and start all over again. It’s a powerful way for the album to sign off, delivering a message that hits hard and stays with you when the music has stopped.
Favorite song: Blinded By A Black Hole
Written by Gimpleg