The Aquabats - Hi-Five Soup! (Fearless Records, 2011)
The Aquabats are an interesting band. Probably one of the more unique bands out there. For those unfamiliar, here's a summary of their story: Singer Christian Jacobs (who, on a side note, created Yo Gabba Gabba for Nick Jr) was raised on comic books and Saturday morning cartoons, so in his adult life he created a ska band influenced by that. But not just any ska band. A ska band that took on superhero identities (Jacobs became The MC Bat Commander) and created a back story involving them being the only escapees of an island nation under attack from aliens, so they use music to build an army to fight back. Then they dropped the horns and went synth-punk, ret-conned their story to explain line-up changes, and now they've released what might be their best album.
For the record, I am not among the legion of fans that got mad when they dropped the horns. I do enjoy ska, but good music is good music (seems odd saying that after trashing The King Is Dead yesterday for being to Americana, but this is a different sort of situation I think). But their first non-ska album, 2005's Charge!! (Nitro Records), felt kinda awkward to me. Aside from a few tracks (mainly "Fashion Zombies ," check out the scene-mocking video) I wasn't much of a fan of it. But for Hi-Five Soup!, the group come across as much more capable of playing non-ska. The result is a much more satisfying slice of synth-punk, with influence from ska as well as pop-punk and hip-hop.
Hi-Five Soup! just might be my favorite album by the band. It's fun and peppy and everything the band should be by this point. Biz Markie provides a guest rap on "Radio Down!,"and Strong Bad (of Homestar Runner fame) sings a verse on "Pink Pants!" The guitar, drums and bass are all fairly standard but well-played pop-punk, but Jimmy The Robot kicks it up on the keyboards. The MC Bat Commander's vocals, in my opinion, wouldn't sound right in any other band, but his Saturday-morning-cartoon-superhero bravado fits in perfectly here. And the lyrics are fun. Children's songs, almost, but aimed at the punk crowd, specifically those old enough to remember the kind of television programming the band love so much (they even filmed a never-aired pilot for their own Aquabats series).
I feel kinda bad for The Aquabats. They're a great band, and they're lots of fun to listen to. But they can come across sometimes as gimmicky. Because of that, I know there are a lot of people that wouldn't even give them a chance. But I highly recommend this album if you like keyboards and Adam West's Batman.