Ballyhoo! – Girls.
1.) Jameson & Ginger
4.) She Wants Love
5.) Drink About You
6.) Blaze This Weed
7.) Ras Vader
9.) Gone Girl
10.) One In A Million
11.) Summer Fling
12.) Let Her Go
The Pier Album Rating:
Release Date: March 24th, 2017
Record Label: Right Coast Records
Official Website: Ballyhoo! Website
The Aberdeen, Maryland based reggae-rock veterans have been hard at work over the past several years. Since replacing Bassist J.R. Gregory with Nick Lucera in 2014, the band has been on a seemingly endless tour cycle while releasing a steady stream of EPs and singles to feed the appetites of fans waiting for their next album. Girls is the first full-length album from the quartet of Howi Spangler, Scott Vandrey, Donald Spangler and Nick Lucera since 2013’s Pineapple Grenade, and the first full length album to feature Lucera exclusively on bass. In prior conversations with the group, Howi alluded to a musical shift in this album compared to their previous releases, stating that the band hoped to return to its more young and reckless roots. With this shift in mind, fan and critical reception of Girls will be a crucial factor in the band’s direction going forward.
It’s not everyday that the band that’s given you a catalogue of emotional and lyrically rich songs announces that they’re going back to making summertime songs, so I was nervous about listening to this album. Could the same Howi Spangler who penned a song about his mother’s passing on 2013’s Pineapple Grenade also deliver an equally beloved album of mostly party songs?
The simple answer is: yes.
For over a decade, Ballyhoo! has specialized in making feel-good music, and that is exactly what is present throughout this album. Starting with “Jameson & Ginger,” the band makes a splash with this instrumentally-rich tune that has more production bells and whistles than we’ve heard from the band in the past, but sets the tone of the album perfectly. Although Howi’s vocals take more of a backseat here, this is the kind of song I could envision the band opening live shows with, as it allows each member of the band to showcase their instrumental abilities.
From here, the album transitions into its two lead singles: “Mixtape,” a hopeless romantic’s anthem that sounds similar to many of the band’s previous releases, and the titular track “Girls,” an enjoyable but more run-of-the-mill summertime song. These songs are good, but the fact that they’ve both been out for a period of time made them skippable in my first few passes of the album.
The band reunited with producer Paul Leary for “Girls,” and once again did a good job of experimenting with new sounds throughout the album. Several tracks feature spacey elements previously unheard of from the band. A good example of this can be found in the questionably titled but loveable “Ras Vader,” a politically motivated song that contains elements of dubs popularized throughout the genre. It opens with the spacey sound of a Theremin, which paves the way for the grand entrance of Reel Big Fish’s horn section. The horns, along with Howi’s strong lyrics, are co-stars in this song. As far as protest songs go, “Ras Vader” has to be considered one of the most enjoyable ones made in recent memory.
One of my biggest fears about this album upon first listen was that the band’s lyricism would suffer as they adopted a more leisurely tone, but those fears were quelled as I reached the second half of Girls. One song in particular, “Rollercoaster,” is deserving of significant praise because in my opinion, it is one of the best songs the band has ever written. Despite some distracting video game-y sound effects present in the chorus, Howi Spangler delivers his lines with a degree of emotion that rivals Billie Joe Armstrong in Green Day’s “Still Breathing” and “Last Night On Earth,” and the instrumentals seem to go on a rollercoaster ride of their own -– pairing perfectly with the ebb and flow of the lyrics. Another song worthy of praise is “One in a Million,” a nearly four minute long love story plucked straight out of the Tinder era.
There are no bad songs present on this album, however I was let down by “She Wants Love,” a relatively average song featuring a forgettable rap verse from the Dirty Heads’ Jared Watson. For a band that doesn’t ever feature guest vocalists on their songs, I expected more from their first collaboration, especially because of the star power involved.
That disappointment disappeared quickly though, as I landed on songs like “Blaze This Weed,” an absolute banger for any season, and “Let Her Go” a 50s style love song in the vein of Pineapple Grenade’s “Morning Sunlight” that closes out the album as perfectly as it was opened.
Girls is that rare album that contains as much fun as it does emotional depth. Whether the song is meant for fun, to tell a story or to deliver a message, Ballyhoo!’s versatility has allowed them to make music unlike any other band in this genre, which is why they’ve become one of my favorite bands over the past several years. I have to commend the band for continuing to evolve and bring something new to the table with each album. Girls will satisfy fans on both ends of the hooligan spectrum: those who were drawn to the fun summertime sounds of Do It For The Money and Cheers, and those who felt the lyrics in Daydreams and Pineapple Grenade resonated with their lives.
Whether you’re a diehard fan or someone on the fence about giving this record a chance, all you really need to know is that this is a Ballyhoo! album. Put all labels and preconceived notions aside, turn it on and really listen. You won’t be disappointed.
Written & Reviewed By: Andrew Aroche
[Editors Note: All reviews are reflective of the album in it’s entirety, from start to finish. These reviews are the honest opinion of each writer/reviewer expressing their feedback as a genuine fan of the music. Each star rating reflects their review of the album, NOT the band. Music is subjective. Regardless of the review or star rating, we encourage you to listen to the music yourself & form your own opinion. Spread the awareness of all music in its art & contribution]
Watch: Ballyhoo! – “Mixtape”