It was about three years ago when I saw the World/Inferno Friendship Society at the Crazy Donkey in Long Island. They tore it up like always, but the real surprise of the night was the seven or eight high school students that owned the stage two bands before them. They were tight as fuck and played an energetic set chock full of poppy ska-punk. Impressed with what I saw, I bought their demo on a CD-R and replayed the four tracks over and over for a good two weeks. Soon after, my car was totaled, and although I remembered to grab the essentials (my iPod and a bowling ball), the car was towed away with the above-mentioned demo in the CD player.
Three years pass. I no longer live in Long Island, I rarely go to ska shows anymore, and I have all but forgotten that "high school band at the World/Inferno show." Then, while riding drunk in the back of a stranger's car, I heard a song that was so familiar I freaked. Probably due to the current state I was in, I couldn't for the life of me remember where I heard this tune before, and how long it was SINCE I heard it…and it drove me crazy! The designated driver told me it was this ska band from Long Island (hm...) who he first saw at the Crazy Donkey (yeaah...) and their name was the Homecoming Queens (holy shit, that's it!). After that, I shut my mouth and enjoyed the shit out of that album for the duration of the car ride. When I got back to my dorm I could barely walk straight, and yet I still managed to buy the Homecoming Queens' A Sound You Once Knew on iTunes at 3 a.m.
The reason I decided to tell this long (and rather uninteresting) story is to help express the overall feel of this album. I can't describe the sound of this album better than the band already did when naming it. The second I started listening to the songs, I was taken back to the glory days of my youth (a.k.a., a couple of years ago) when my friends and I skanked our asses off at every local ska show and worshiped Tomas Kalnoky in a slightly unhealthy manner. The Homecoming Queens play an incredibly infectious mix of ska and pop-punk with a tint of jazz. And they do it well. While not every song on this album is an absolute winner, they all manage to be incredibly catchy and just...well, fun. Actually, the same stranger who introduced me to this album made quite an interesting and oddly specific comparison that night: "It's a mix of Streetlight Manifesto's Everything Goes Numb and Catch 22's Dinosaur Sounds." And while that statement MAY seem vague to some, I totally get it. A Sound You Once Knew shares the same pop and jazz sensibilities that were evident in Dinosaur Sounds while offering some insightful and emotional lyrics backed by strong horns and a kick-ass rhythm section not unlike Streetlight Manifesto. Fans of both must take notice!
As for individual songs, "Old College Try" sticks out as my favorite track on the album (which was re-recorded from the demo). There are two members that share vocal duty throughout the album and their chemistry is best heard during this song. Besides, the lyrics are awesome and the horn lines will be stuck in your head for days on end. Other than that, "Melvin vs. the Road Test, Part II" is an incredibly catchy instrumental, "Summer Song" is the perfect…uh, summer song, and "Straightaway" is a very satisfying album closer that seems to blend every style experimented on the album into one well-crafted song.
In conclusion, A Sound You Once Knew ain't no Keasbey Nights. It won't re-define the ska genre or change anybody's life, but it will manage to keep your head bobbing for a good 45 minutes. And sometimes, that's really all you need. (God...what a corny conclusion.)