Album Review: Bad Operation — ‘Bad Operation’

Posted: by The Editor

During the premiere of their debut record on Skatune Network’s Youtube channel, the members of Bad Operation (a group of accomplished, genre-jumping musicians) talked about wanting to return to simplicity with their debut album. Instead of trying to throw in convoluted countermelodies and superfluous layers, they decided to get to the barebones of not just ska, but also making music with a group of friends in general: the idea that it should be fun. The result is a fantastic 25 minutes of danceable grooves and direct, anti-capitalist lyrics that even ska skeptics will find hard to ignore.

“Perilous” kicks off the album with a classic ska groove, accented by Daniel “D-Ray” Ray’s phenomenal work on the keys and trombone. The entire group’s musicianship shines through from the start, as the rhythm section is able to sound loose and free while they keep the grooves tight and precise. Dominic Minix’s vocal delivery, too, has a loose and relaxed feel even as he sounds worlds better than what most people might think of as a ska singer. 

“Bagel Rocks” keeps things moving with its wordless, singalong chorus and an excellent call on response between Minix’s vocals and D-Ray’s trombone in the second verse. “Brain” brings to mind the manic pace of late ‘80s/early ‘90s ska-core over a chorus of “Can I manifest some meaning? / And maybe make a lot of money.” Those tracks are followed by “Little Man,” a dub tune bringing Greg Rodrigue’s bassline to the forefront. It also features a great moment in the last pass through the chorus where the band stops dead for a beat before sliding back into the groove behind the keys. It’s a small, subtle moment, but reflects how Bad Operation can imbue so much soul and feeling into this “simple” style of music.

The first half of the record closes with the title track, which could be seen as the central idea behind both the album and the band’s New Tone brand of ska. It has a classic ska groove with an almost gospel feel from the keys topped off by Minix’s lyrics that seem at once timeless and specific 2020 in the U.S. “You’ve already lost the game / With your neighbor to blame” and “As we enter decay / In the latter stage / Oh by now we’ve natured and nurtured our fate” make it clear that the “bad operation” in question is the grotesque, inhumane system of capitalism that America continues to ride into the future. 

The line in the bridge, “We make waste and war / Forgetting the poor” could easily have been penned by Phil Ochs in the 1960s, but it fits just as well in the last throes of 2020. Around the time of the album’s release, Congress was debating over which scraps to throw to working people for sorely needed pandemic relief as they made sure to approve a military budget larger than $600 billion dollars (amidst widely ignored reports of C.I.A.-trained death squads in Afghanistan). You don’t really need more than that line, sung overtop Brian Petrus’s driving ska guitar to tell you what New Tone ska is all about.

The record’s second half picks with “Kinda Together,” featuring a spoken-word delivery from Minix overtop of an infectious, loose pattern held together and accented by Robert Landry’s drum fills and open hi-hat. In addition to introducing the band, Minix drops lines like “2020 calls the downfall / Of corrupt capitalism / Transphobia and racism,” further underlying the ideas of New Tone. 

“Peachy” is another standout tune with the memorable opening hook of “Eat the rich, Feed the kids / Are you Jedi? Are you Sith?” Like all of the songs on the record, “Peachy” feels like it was made to be played live, and is sure to fill many rooms with skanking socialists once concerts return. It’s followed by “Siren’s Call” and “Baby in Arms,” two relaxed dubs with the shared theme of somnolence that matches the pace of the tracks, lulling the listener before the band picks it back up for album closer “Fish Out of Water.” D-Ray’s almost circus-like trombone makes the final track feel like a wild celebration and a perfect closer to the album.

With the lyrical content and musical approach, you’d be forgiven for thinking Bad Operation was going to sound like ska-revivalists, merely echoing a sound that already existed and ideas that have been around for over a century (they’re not the first folks to realize the shortcomings of capitalism, after all). What makes this album so effective is the group’s ability to pull from these familiar sounds and ideas and come out with a completely original album that feels as if it could have been made only at this particular moment, by this particular group.

Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great /Phenomenal

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Aaron Eisenreich

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