Bristol-based Yes Sir Boss have plenty going for them with the release of Desperation State, a debut album sharing its title with an EP from earlier this year. Forty minutes of West Coast-tinged ska joy await, but the album packs a surprise or two – not least its uncharacteristically expert practicing of the genre.
Yes Sir Boss combine offbeat ska rhythm picks with an eternal brass presence of trumpet and saxophone. They alternate between Spaghetti Western morning and upbeat sunny-day trumpeteering. It’s cookie-cutter reggae rock with an edge of folk, performed with such aplomb that it doesn’t understand the genre as exemplify it.
All the while, Matt Sellors delivers sensational vocals in the mould of the likes of Bradley Nowell and Chris DeMakes, despite hailing from the wrong side of the Atlantic. He growls his way through the sultry and infectiously sleazy Pretty Girl in much the same way as he squeals and yaps through the frantic Never Know, crossing scales much as the songs straddle styles.
A great chunk of Desperation State is exemplary. The title track brandishes brash harmonies and rapid nipped chords, the bassline surly like Sylvester Stallone and the laidback drumwork comfortably kicking back on Venice Beach with a beer on a sunny morning. The Situation, a short instrumental interlude before the heady, politically charged Not Guilty, tickles guitar strings and rueful horns into creating the atmosphere of a Western showdown. It’s an ideal and tense introduction to half an hour of frenetic reggae rock and the occasional mood swing.
The downtrodden and depressed are given airtime though the mellow Mr Happy, the thundery My My and the album’s closing comedown, Lose No More. However, the album is at its best when exploring and exploiting the ska it knows best. Til You Get Yours is a better recording of vengeance, bringing the horns to the forefront with spat, forceful vocals. “We’re the beast, you’re the matador,” Sellors spits, “You can shoot the bow, but you cannot kill the beast.”
Despite standing on its own two feet as a remarkable debut album, Desperation State packs a hidden surprise in the form of Joss Stone. Stone, whose Stoned Records label is releasing the album, guests on penultimate track Mrs #1. Through no fault of the band, she steals the stage, her swooping vocals add flair to the lyrically-sound toe-tapper on an album which, although musically solid, remains lyrically unimaginative.
With the third wave ska revival of the 90s and early 2000s now well and truly over, it’s refreshing to see Yes Sir Boss take a swing at keeping the genre going. With this exemplary debut there isn’t much to criticise, save for an occasional lack of imagination, but talent and a sprinkle of star power bolster the varied and articulate array of ska ditties on offer.