Common Rider - This Is Unity Music (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Common Rider

This Is Unity Music (2002)


If Operation Ivy channeled the Clash's sound, Common Rider channels their ambition. With their second album following Jesse Michaels' decade long sojourn from the music scene, Common Rider continues to redefine the conventions of what a ska-punk band can sound like. "This Is Unity Music" delivers twelve showing the trio maturing and sounding far more comfortable than they did on their uneven (yet still rather good) debut.

'Firewall' is dub much in the same vein of the late, great Franklin. 'Set The Method Down' is a low-fi rock song sounding more like indie-garage than Clash-era punk. 'Small Pebble' and 'Midnight Passenger' are mold-breaking ska songs. Michaels jumps from reggae toasting to his characteristic frantic ranting as the songs progress in rather unconventional ways. 'Blackbirds Vs Crows' features the kind of melodic chorus Bad Religion strives for and some frantic guitar-play by Michaels. On 'One Ton' Michaels toasts in a style at times reminiscent of Buju Banton's "Til' Shilah" material. 'Longshot' could be a Green Day tune and joins other competent punk rock tracks like 'Time Won't Take Away' and 'Prison Break.'

"This Is Unity Music" takes the ska-punk sound and turns it on its head. It's always urgent, sparse, minimalist at times and best of all, fresh sounding. Nowhere to be found is the borderline-irritating humor or arena-rock breakdowns that stereotypical ska-punk bands partake in. Thematically Jesse is still writing intelligent lyrics with a slight spiritual focus. Common Rider keeps their interpretation of an old style interesting by tampering with the typical arrangements and time signatures used. The band sounds much tighter and coherent compared to their work on "Last Wave Rockers." Specifically the rhythm section is much more in synch with Michaels' direction. Dan Lumley's drumming is far less spastic this time around and it helps the songs flow.

Common Rider manages to sound progressive and is yet knee deep in the influences of Desmond Dekker, The Specials, The Clash and other 'traditional' reggae, punk and ska artists. I still feel there's some creative threshold Michaels is taking small steps towards and has not yet reached, but his progress along the way is simply a blast to listen too. For now, Jesse Michaels legacy remains intact.