I first encountered The Waffle Stompers on September 24th, 2010, when they played a show at the Livingston Student Center (which, coincidentally, is where 90.3 The Core is located) at Rutgers University. They opened for Reel Big Fish. I specifically remember thinking to myself: I’ve never seen a group of musicians look so genuinely happy to be playing a show. However, like most opening acts, enjoyment didn’t breed interest, and I never acted to find out more about them. Fast forward to summer 2011. A friend, also on the music staff of 90.3 The Core, added some songs by The Waffle Stompers to playlist as a preview of this very EP. The two singles were called “Serious” and “Tired Of It.” At a college radio station that focuses on mostly indie pop and noise rock, a quality pop-punk/ska band in the playlist made my day. Out of Flemington, New Jersey, The Waffle Stompers rock out with some bouncy, energetic third-wave ska. They’re home-grown, entertaining, and proof that no matter what, ska never really dies.
The Waffle Stompers refer to themselves as a “post-ska” band. I’m not entirely sure what that’s supposed to mean. As a metalhead, I’ve written extensively on this blog about what I consider to be great post-metal (Junius, Russian Circles) and consider to myself to have some expertise on the topic. I also think in detail about what exactly the concept “post-metal” is. In my review of the new Junius record, Reports From The Threshold Of Death, I describe post-metal as “heavy music, working within a metal paradigm, that places great emphasis on unconventional song structures, loud-soft dynamics, and musical atmosphere (as opposed to riff/lead-based music).” If we understand post-ska as being a parallel concept to post-metal, I’m not actually sure that The Waffle Stompers’ description of themselves is accurate. At least on the surface, The Waffle Stompers are a fairly typical third-wave ska band; their single “Serious” literally sounds like it could have been taken off of a Goldfinger record.
But closer analysis and repeated listening reveal that this may be too hasty of a judgement. Maybe the description of post-metal isn’t a parallel description to that of post-ska – they don’t exactly seemed concerned with being atmospheric and artsy (which I think is the primary intent of post-metal). Perhaps The Waffle Stompers simply want to claim that they sample from an eclectic group of music; they their music moves beyond “just ska” by tossing in outside influences and remaining true to the classic ska formula – party music for band kids. Maybe, then, in asserting this, they want to make the claim that artistry doesn’t imply pretension.
Consider the first song on the record, “We’re In For A Long Night.” Upon starting the track, the first thing we hear is a heavily distorted wall of guitar noise fade in from zero. It’s coupled with a shamelessly auto-tuned harmonized vocal part. As it reaches its peak volume, we’re hit with a full-band blast of noise: a heavy “djent” crunch. Then, the tune launches into full blast, with a throwback horn attack (they utilize a trumpet – trombone attack; only tracks 3 and 6 have saxophone) and a power pop chord progression. I hear the intro to the song as a parody of cheesy pop-hardcore bands – it sounds like The Waffle Stompers are taking a jab at We Came As Romans. Indeed, the rest of the song supports that comparison, with pounding double-bass drumming and heavy power chords throughout. The band juxtapose this parody with intermittent ska fare with upstroke skank guitar and sugary horn lines. During these moments, the song sounds like it could have been lifted off of a Less than Jake album. This song shows that there is some subtle, surprising depth to the band’s music.
The third track, “Serious,” might just be the perfect ska song. Musically, it shifts between bouncy ska verses and perfectly harmonized pop-punk choruses and contains lyrics about New jersey, breakups, and other ska bands. The third verse is particularly entertaining: “I liked Pizza Day and The Aquabats until Travis Barker left, now what’s with that? / Then I saw him in Blink 182, what should I do? What the hell should I do? / I give up, I give in, look at me stuck in a Catch 22 with Blink 182 / I’ll commit suicide with a machine what do you think of me now?” For those not so well-versed in the NJ ska scene, “Giving Up, Giving In” is a song by Catch-22 off their classic 1998 record Keasbey Nights.
The Waffle Stompers switch gears with track 4, “Days Like These.” The song starts with a contemplative guitar progression over surprisingly introspective lyrics. They gradually add instruments and build the track up into a plodding, groovy emo song – it sounds like Goldfinger forcing themselves onto Say Anything’s record …Is A Real Boy or an early Brand New song. The song is notable for its complete lack of ska-ness. There’s no attempt to upstroke on the guitar lines and no snare accents on the downbeats. In eschewing the standard tropes and making a disparate style their own, they differentiate themselves from their competitors. This is musical territory that a band like Reel Big Fish is more likely to enter in live parody than on record.
For the most part, The Waffle Stompers sound like a typical ska band. And the thing is, that’s OK. That’s what most people who listen to this record want to hear, and they won’t dig deeper than that. However, upon closer listening, it’s clear that the band have a nuanced humor to them. Most ska music is intentionally lighthearted and upbeat, but comes off as silly. The Waffle Stompers, however, manage to keep the good traits of the genre while still sounding like a serious rock band. Maybe that’s closer to what the band mean when they dub themselves post-ska. They abandon all the sardonic pretension and idiocy that continually pops up in the music of bands like Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake and just write fucking great songs. However, the take-home message is just this: whatever post-ska may mean, I hope to hear a hell of a lot more of it in the future.
If this sounds like an interesting record to you (as it damn well should), you can find more information on The Waffle Stompers on Facebook.