CD Review of Do it Yourself by Victims of Circumstance
Recommended if you like
Mighty Mighty Bosstones,
The Specials, The Penguin Project
Financial Records
Victims of Circumstance:
Do it Yourself

Reviewed by Jason Thompson


n a phrase, “These guys rock!” There, put that on your next one-sheet and send it out to the media. Seriously, though, I was more than pleasantly surprised when popping Victims of Circumstance’s new album Do It Yourself into my CD player. The whole ska/punk/skacore/pop/what-have-you thing is a dicey business. Just ask anyone who tried to go the route in the ‘90s, when the Bosstones and No Doubt were busting down the doors, causing a flood of like-minded groups to follow, only to be washed away in the business-as-usual cookie cutter flood. But time passes, the earth breathes, and what was once old is new again, as they say.

The band hails from the Sunshine State (Florida to those of you not into states’ official slogans), formed by guitarist Michael Smyth and drummer Glenn Stewart. Fleshing out the band with bassist Alan Garcia and trombonist Aaron Zylman, Victims of Circumstance were officially born and went to work on their first album, which apparently wasn’t a problem at all due to Smyth and Stewart’s huge back catalogue of original tunes. But again, going down the ska waters can be risky, especially when the “majority” of music maniacs often look at the genre as a bit of a novelty thing, even though that’s the farthest thing from the truth. But hey, you throw some horns on the bouncy rhythms and the kids wanna dance! There’s more to it, though, right?

Well, yeah. Especially if your ska band’s worth a damn, and VoC is definitely that. Do It Yourself was even produced by Bosstone Tim “Johnny Vegas” Burton, so there’s real cred here, kids -- but just listen to the music and hear for yourself. The first track, “My Fate,” instantly explodes from the speakers, going from a sort of Green Day-like intro into full-blown ska punk. There’s a taste of Social Distortion lurking in the grooves here as well. Crunchy guitar chords, solid drumming, and the jackhammer rhythm tears the lid right off from the start.

“Could’ve Been Nice” hits the ska sweet spot, with its familiar rapid-fire guitar chords and comfortable trombone licks. If there’s a nod to the Bosstones on this album, this song is it. On the other hand, “Do Nothing (So that Everyone Knows You Mean Business)” is a bit of a darker roller coaster (“We’ve built up so much momentum / We’ll never stop until we crash / You can brace for impact / But you still get cracked”) embracing the disdain of politics and general sociological ennui. Indeed, this isn’t just another ska party collection.

There’s also a great sarcastic nod to the right wing in “Me and Alex P. Keaton” (perhaps one of the best political rants of recent memory to avoid tipping over into preachy territory itself), and the absolute crunching “Rocks and Human Bombs” that hearkens back to classic Orange County punk without being derivative. And for great taste in cover tunes, look no further than these guys’ great take on Social Distortion’s “Ball and Chain.”

Victims of Circumstance are indeed a welcome breath of the proverbial fresh air in a genre that can become polluted with hack acts. That they tackle serious topics in their work without sounding hokey or self-consciously hip is a testament to the group’s talent. It might even be a safe bet to say that not since the Clash itself has a band come out and gotten its message across in such an infectious way. It’d be great to see these guys still around in ten years. Here’s hoping for more.

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