Nimbly dashing up the creaky stairs, a young man ascends the Austin high-rise water tower, briefcase in tow. A dark figure catches his eye near in front, and is getting nearer. Willing his legs to move beyond their limits, the young man picks up speed as the mesh catwalk underneath him levels out. The dark, larger figure slowly inches towards the edge; the lad leaps towards the shadow, but in his haste, misses and plunges over the lip of the walkway into the pavement below. As the dark figure ambles down the stairwell, our “hero” rises to his feet and begins the chase anew. Due to the commotion, a crowd has formed ‘round the tower, watching the incident. One onlooker, tilling a field of wheat, is amazed as the boy revives and shakily remarks, “That’s an impossible for ya…” Deep in the throng of people, a juvenile Rory Phillips’ ears perk up, and he excitedly shouts, “That’s it!”
And with that, Austin’s local ska-punk outfit, “thefatgirls,” became the short-lived ska sensation we know as The Impossibles.
Okay, maybe not. You can’t prove it never happened, though, with your facts and textbook knowledge. Nevertheless, Phillips, along with Craig Tweedy, Pat Elliot, and Gabe Hascall, bestowed upon the world a triumph of the dwindling ska-punk genre in their first full-length LP, Anthology
. Compiling of their first four EP’s recorded between 1994 and 1998, Anthology
was circulated by the Fueled by Ramen label, and while the band was on hiatus, received incredible reception. Opening with a live cheer and announcement of, “Now for The Impossibles from Austin, Texas,” the CD keeps a consistent, vigorous flow of energy streaming throughout; even more melancholy songs such as Frances
, and The Week of August First
make you just want to get up and skank. (Alone, of course.) That endless energy, which is one of the cornerstones of ska, is also one of the band’s greatest attributes. Despite each track’s own personal “tinge,“ they all deliver the unabashed vigor of a bunch of guitar-playing kids making fools of themselves onstage. Such a grand, electrical presence virtually speaks to the listener, willing them onward on their journey through the group’s music and, in a way, their history.
That’s not to say, however, that energy is the only thing these wise guys have going on in Anthology
. Catchy riffs, as per the ska formula, can glue the group’s music to one’s mind for days at a time. In addition, Gabe and Rory supply vocals, often interchanging during songs; Rory’s more traditional, higher-pitched voice complements Gabe’s gruffer, lower rumble in an unexpectedly astounding fashion. In fact, every facet of the music fits together rather snugly. Immediately after the fuzzy entrance to the CD’s opening track, Eightball, a commanding yet simple riff distorts its way into the listener’s heart; quieter hihat taps and cleaner lines from the guitar and bass usher in the vocals, subdued in their own respect yet still full of vigor. The four (three and a voice") instruments wrap around each other like coiling vines, following a tight form that doesn’t tend to deviate anywhere else on the album; the only exception would be on tracks such as Fatboy
, where the scarce yet powerful brass section take center stage. This tight musicianship counteracts the subpar quality of most of the recordings (hey, they were EP’s after all,) polishing Anthology
Still, every band in the genre has to take some page out of the proverbial “Ska by Numbers” book, and these guys are no different. Many of the songs are remarkably similar, and it takes a trained ear to tell between those filler copies. They lack much emotion and creativity when compared to the stronger areas of The Impossibles’ repertoire. What’s more, the lyrical formula for most of the songs are typical pop-punk subject matter: I’m-single-again or I’m-bitching-about-life-‘cause-it-sucks-again often find their way to the frontlines. Of course, the lyrics don’t take much away from any of the songs’ enjoyability, and even those weaker tracks are listenable by any and all means, and like I said, nowhere on this album does the energy river meet a dam.
A piece of third-wave history, The Impossibles’ Anthology
greatly influenced the growth and expansion of indie ska labels, as well as contributing to the peak of the ska revival in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. Too many weak points to be considered a classic musically, but its role in the 90’s revival is legendary. If you can find this album and like anything from two-tone to pop-punk, get this immediately. If not, it’s still worth a listen if you don’t mind the boppy “modus operandi” of ska. Fully deserving of its 4.5.