Review Summary: Five Iron Frenzy's debut is like eating pop-rocks while watching Saturday morning cartoons. It reminds you just how damn enjoyable a childish experience can be.
Five Iron Frenzy is :
Reese Roper – lead vocals
Micah Ortega – lead guitar, Vocals
Keith Hoerig – bass
Andrew Verdecchio – drums, Vocals
Nathanael "Brad" Dunham – trumpet
Dennis Culp – trombone, Vocals
Leanor Ortega "Jeff the Girl" – saxophone, Vocals
Sonnie Johnston (1998+) – guitar
Scott Kerr (-1998) - guitar, Vocals
(Taken From Wikipedia since I wasn't entirely sure about the dates on some lineup switches)
As far as ska music goes, I've never really been a huge fan. Sure, back when skateboarding took up every spare minute of time I could find, it was fun to listen to, but I could never really find myself enjoying it for anything more than the fun factor. A lot of my friends loved it's whimsical but still punk-esque feel and praised bands like Sublime, The Toasters, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Reel Big Fish to no end, but I always found myself listening to them just because my friends liked it and never because I actually enjoyed it.
Then I heard Five Iron Frenzy. Having been raised in an incredibly Christian household, I was amazed that I had never really heard of these guys until my 'hedonistic' skating friends got me into them. They're a band who is just as fun, more talented, and a much more entertaining listen than almost any other ska band out there.
Starting out as a garage-thrash band in the mid 90's called Exhumator, Five Iron Frenzy soon added a couple members to their line-up and decided that ska music would fit all of their personalities and musical styles much more succinctly than thrash. They started playing shows, mainly consisting of opening gigs for ska bands who passed through their hometown of Denver, Colorado, and began to gain a fair amount of attention in their local music scene.
Upbeats and Beatbowns was their first studio release, and is an amazing debut album, especially in a genre that so often receives incredibly harsh musical criticism. Not just on a elitist, skasuxxxlolz level, but also because the sound itself is incredibly difficult to successfully pull off. The timing, production, pacing and song-writing have to be spot on for a ska band, especially one with this much noise being produced, to sound at all worthwhile. Five Iron Frenzy pulls it off with flying colors.
Reese's vocals and lyrics fit the style impeccably. Ranging from incredibly stupid, childish and whimsical in songs like Arnold and Willis And Mr. Drummond, to poignant, religious and political in songs like Anthem. His faith is at the forefront of it, and unlike many Christian bands, there was never an attempt to shy away from it in the hopes of going mainstream. He is catchy and intelligent but his voice just sounds approachable and fun, the kind of guy you'd want as the vocalist of your band because he wouldn't be some egotistical douche and just has fun with the music.
The instruments back him incredibly well. They constantly maintain a very full sound, from the palm muted verses, to some amazingly catchy bass lines and an incredibly strong wind section, and are just as fun to listen to as Reese himself. The childish demeanor comes through even in the instrumentation and is as upbeat as any ska band could ever hope to be. There are few moments when any one musician truly stands out and is exceptional, but it's never a bad thing. When the music gets fast the entire band plays faster, when it slows down, everyone follows suit perfectly. They play as a unit, not as individuals, and the sound they muster is unique and very enjoyable.
The huge deciding factor for how much I enjoy this album, even to this day, was seeing them play it live. The CD doesn't quite do it justice, which made actually rating this album pretty difficult. I bought this CD at the live show, after they'd just played the entire thing, start to finish, in the middle of 300 kids crammed into the middle of a giant, over-sized, wooden half-pipe in a downtown church warehouse. Their live sound is impossible not to dance to. The parents who'd driven their kids and were standing outside ended up buying tickets and coming in to dance. People skated around in tune with the music, and the band members ran through the crowd, crowd-surfed and seemed to have even more fun than their onlookers. It was truly the first great show I ever went to, and still defines what I expect out of a live show to this day. The mood the band set transferred seamlessly to every single person in the crowd to the point that not a single person wanted to leave and every time they came back through my town I saw the same people I'd seen at that first show somewhere in their ever increasing fan-base.
Five Iron Frenzy is a band whose success, unfortunately, never quite met their talent, but they wouldn't give a *** if you told them that. They're a band who have fun playing their music and everything they do exemplifies that fact. It comes through in their lyrics, their personalities and, most importantly, in their music. They love what they do (or did) and are much more enjoyable because of it. Too often now bands fail miserably at trying to connect on a deep, emotional level with their listener, but FIF manage to without ever trying. They write what they know and what they have fun doing, and so people can relate and enjoy them all the more for it. They were a band whose potential would later come to full fruition, but this album defined them, defined ska in Christian music and set a new standard of succinctness in the genre as a whole.
I will always remember this album for leaving it's hooks and choruses in my brain, and actually making me pick up a guitar for the first time. I would never argue that the band maintains some sort of technical genius, but the sound that all of the members come together to make is just so damn catchy that they're hard not to like. Once those catchy hooks have dug themselves well in, then their talent seems to seep into the holes the hooks already created. Like I've said entirely too many times in this review, the only real way to describe them is “fun.” You can't listen to it and not smile.