No Torso - Several Brains (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

No Torso

Several Brains (2006)

Asian Man

No Torso emerged from their cozy Norwegian nook and into international awareness at an interesting time in music's constant evolution. Ska had been officially "dead" for years, and those that survived the filtering process were gravitating away from the frenzied upstrokes and brassy polish of the third wave in favor of a more traditional ska and reggae propensity. Of course, for the legions of purists and devotees -- including the ostensibly third-wave No Torso -- ska's ascendancy has never ceased, and each "wave" is merely a fresh incarnation of the enduring ideals of its originators.

And so with no popularity-driven inclination to fit the changing mold of a post-mainstream sound, No Torso broke onto the scene with what they do best: third wave ska. If the sound of a Norwegian ska band worries the lingocentricist in all of us, don't worry kids, there's not a single word of Norwegian on Several Brains. What will be found on the album is a handful of sparkly clean ska-punk iced with flickering upstrokes, sax-heavy hornery, and smooth, warm vocals from lead singer Lars Oskarsen.

"Fatal Fraud" sees the band at their best: a competent, well-orchestrated ska-punk composition of equal parts MU330 and the Toasters. Oskarsen's voice is relaxed and confident, and laced with hooks as he recalls almost nostalgically, "I fought my silent battle against those fundamentalists / I got all the good people together / And we'd raise our fists." "Time Will Show" may indulge in one of the most played out chord progressions in the genre, but the luscious melody coated in brass makes it entirely forgivable. Walking basslines highlight the record's upbeat rhythms on songs like "Fight the Blue Horizon," which toggle between skankable third wave ska and punk rock slam-jams. The record hits its most aggressive just before finishing, with the surf-tinged "Artificial Artists" and aptly titled "The Hardest Sound."

Whether or not a 10-year-old style can be considered retro, or whether No Torso even cares, Several Brains is a feat of refined and well-composed third wave ska decorated with catchy melodies, driving rhythms, and helping horns. Ska's not coming back -- it just never died.