1992-1996 is a collection of Pietasters albums during their stints on the Slugtone and Moon Ska rosters. Featured are their first four full-length albums (1993’s Piestomp, 1995’s Oolooloo, 1996’s Strapped (Live) and Comply) and a handful or so of unreleased tracks shoved into the cracks.
Piestomp begins fantastically with a string of ska gems that concludes with "Factory Concerto" -- an instrumental featuring elements of a classical piece you’ll probably recognize from various cartoons of yore. The second half falters a bit with comparatively lackluster material, though there are a few successes and then a couple toe-tapping instrumentals that keep the album solid. Solidity, however, is second prize considering the brilliance hinted at on the first half of the record. Still, for a debut one shouldn’t complain -- this album suggested the muscularity and vision that was realized on their sophomore effort, Oolooloo. I give this album an 8/10.
Oolooloo kicks off with a grooving traditional ska number that digresses into an impressive attack of horn solos barely 40 seconds into the song, and the album remains as unpredictable for its entire duration. The listener’s ears are flooded with memorable hooks delivered by unorthodox song structuring so often disregarded by the 'Tasters’ peers. From slow jams to ska-punk madness, Oolooloo delivers with originality to spare. If I had one word to describe this album, I would undoubtedly use “swagger.” The Pietasters give us a modern ska masterpiece with an unmatched effortlessness about them. I almost find it hard to realize how great the album is because of its nonchalant nature, which makes the Pie that much sweeter when you do actually start to dig into it. Additionally, I feel I must mention that "Maggie Mae" has been given its own track and is no longer tacked onto the end of "Tell You Why." This spells great news for mix CDs everywhere! 9/10
Next in the collection is Strapped (Live), a documentation of two 1996 performances in their home city of Washington, D.C. While a mix of songs from Piestomp and Oolooloo dominate the track list, they keep things interesting by offering a few studio album-worthy covers exclusively for this release. Faster, harder, and (presumably) fueled by more alcohol, Strapped (Live) is a testament to the Pietasters’ live talent. If there weren’t so many crucial tracks missing from the prior studio albums, Strapped (Live) would be the be-all/end-all to the Pietasters’ career to this point. Instead, it can “merely” be given the distinction of Arguably the Best. Join the club, Strapped (Live). 9/10
An entry that will be denied admission to the club, I’m sorry to say, is Comply, the fourth and final album contained in this set. With the barrage of covers and reinterpreted Oolooloo material far outweighing their new original compositions, Comply is really just the sound of the gang preparing for its next proper album, 1997’s Willis. Several songs making their way to Willis appear here in a rawer and less conceptualized form, meaning this record lost quite a bit of its relevance in 1997. A curious but unessential record with a few winners, Comply is relegated to (or reserved for, depending on your status) the die-hard fans. 4/10.
Following Comply is the largest cluster of unreleased tracks, and a few of these are surprisingly musical. Overall, however, one gets the impression there was a reason these stayed in the vault so long. No complaints, though; I’d rather have these round out the collection than nothing.
Taken as a whole, this is a fantastic compilation that any ska fan would, could, and should cherish. Neglecting the mean and median, the mode tell me this collection is easily worthy of a 9.