Rejection Builds Character: The Dubnicks’ reflections on dating scene humiliation or a self-effacing comment on the reception of their first album, How to Be Cool? That a respectable number of college radio stations are playing their songs should give a good sense of just how little rejection this Boston-based trio has encountered with respect to their modestly successful first album. Their sophomore effort, Rejection Builds Character, proves that the band (which switched drummers in the interim) has actually improved since its first full-length release, smoothing out many of the ragged edges that plagued How to Be Cool.
The majority of the seven songs on the sub-22-minute Rejection take The Dubnicks’ eclectic fusion of punk, rock, and indie to a higher, more mature level than their previous work. The lead track, “Note to Self,” is a catchy, high-energy assortment of cheery clichés that manage to sound fresh and genuine, rather than tired and empty. Rejection has an earnestness that was lacking on their debut; songs like “Falls Apart” and “King of Mediocrity” are sincere expressions of pain and denial that will resonate with most audiences, while maintaining the dynamic sound of the rest of the album. “Act Like You Don’t Care” is a tender ballad that closes the album on a welcome soothing note. One notable exception to the good thing The Dubnicks have going on this album, however, is the feverish and crude “Worn Out,” about the rantings of a bitter ex.
Any rejection that The Dubnicks have suffered after the release of How to Be Cool in 2001 has left them with a better sound than ever. If the nomination for best punk band at the 2002 Boston Music Awards was not enough to make the trio feel cool, certainly the heartfelt and energetic Rejection Builds Character should cement them in the ranks of the more hip and inventive punk-rock bands.
—S. N. Kunz
Original Pirate Material
Only once every year or two does a debut album hit the streets fully-formed, charting a new direction from its predecessors. Even more rarely is the inventiveness maintained for more than a few standout tracks. What a blessing then is cocky Englishman Mike Skinner, aka The Streets, and his debut album Original Pirate Material. Blending elements of rap, spoken word, two-step garage and enough attitude to start a personal clothing line, Original Pirate Material is exactly the sort of album we’ve learned not to expect.
The Streets revels in his London accent and phrasing at least as much and to greater effect as any American East-side gangsta. In his skinny-whiteness and mix of braggadocio and self-mockery, he is reminiscent of another white rapper known for his originality and his crudity. Original Pirate Material’s “Too Much Brandy” sounds a lot like, say, “Drug Ballad,” or possibly “Lounge.”
But The Streets is not after shock value—his focus is down-to-earth. “At street level” is an oft-repeated phrase on the album. Though he grazes the surface of preachiness a couple of times, he undermines himself far too much to be taken too seriously.
But though The Street’s rambling, resplendently-accented “spitting” will probably alternately mystify and delight American listeners who may have no idea what precisely a “geezer” is, it is only half the attraction. Garage music, an offshoot of techno and trance, has always seemed like a half-formed genre, a minor detour in a genre best-listened to on a crowded, chemically-enhanced dancefloor. Original Pirate Material demonstrates conclusively why this is no longer the case. In the awakening world of British hip hop, The Streets may be the first truly English rapper and he has commandeered his own sound to go with it.