Kill Lincoln’s ‘Can’t Complain’ represents a new ska resurgence

If you missed this 2020 album then get on it- it's got a sound and message that we still need.

I was recently talking to a friend about the current ska resurgence, and how ska has finally evolved away from the sound and even the stereotypes of the third wave. When asked to recommend an album that represents this new ska resurgence, one came to mind.

One that sounds new, fresh, rejuvenated, and captured the themes most common in modern ska- mental health awareness, anti-racism, anti-fascism, anti-bigotry, and anti- capitalism-Kill Lincoln‘s ‘Can’t Complain’.

‘Can’t Complain’  was released in August of 2020- a few months after COVID lockdowns first began, and touring and live shows basically stopped for two years.

While this was not their first album, and there were plenty of other ska bands around at the time, this felt like the first great ska album to come out after the lockdowns.

Kill Lincoln built a large community online and signed to Bad Time Records– a label founded by their own guitarist and vocalist- who started signing other new ska bands that were building a large online community. This album- to me- marks the beginning and growth of a massive DIY ska scene.

When you start the album you are immediately met with the sound of fading feedback. Coming through in the background is a simple but catchy horn rhythm, drums pairing behind each note as it repeats.  As the feedback fades out the drums fill, the rhythm changes. We have just entered the album with ‘Greetings from Inner Space‘, and it already feels like a great punk record.

As the vocals come in the guitars drop to an upstroke ska rhythm laying the foundation for vocals about getting older and running out of time. The horns play perfectly between lines in the verse, never drowning the vocals but also adding urgency and texture to the song. We get a slight tease of a sax solo, and a great drum fill that builds urgency, and the song ends by repeating the horn riff from the intro to tie the song back together.

It introduces the album and the band well- you know you are getting a clean, well constructed punk album with ska influences and riffs, great horns, audible bass lines that aren’t hidden or drowned out, and vocals that you can sing along with.

Second track, ‘Used Up‘ is faster paced and intros with a fast paced pop punk rhythm. Third up- ‘Last Ditch Denial‘ begins like another punk or ska song with solid horns, but this track features better gang vocals. A song about struggling with mental health and running out of time with catchy riffs and clean vocals and horns feels really special.

What really makes this track stand out is the fadeout before the bridge and the rising of tempo through the bridge with the bass and drums. The repetition of the three line chorus as the guitars and horns are added back in. It’s not a formula that works for a lot of songs, but it’s pulled off to perfection here. 

From there the album slips into the shortest original song with ‘Ignorance is Bliss‘. At just over 90 seconds, the first 60 seconds are pure fast paced punk rock. Gang vocals repeat the chorus as the song continues to speed along before the last 30 seconds where we feel a fast paced ska instrumental breakdown. It’s perfect for getting feet moving and bodies slamming in the pit.

Who Am I This Time‘ is yet another great ska punk song, it’s impossible not to sing along with the chorus, but then we get the instrumental breakdown, featuring my favorite horn solo on the album. We get some really high notes and just something a little more jazzy before returning to the chorus where we get a breakdown of vocals repeatedly asking “who am I, who am I”.

It begins to feel like the emotional toll is wearing on the music. For an album that deals with mental health struggles, the feeling that things are coming apart makes the album more immersive. You don’t just hear it in the words, but in the emotion and the music.

I’m not going to dive into every song, but just know that this album doesn’t have weak songs or skips. The themes and styles run through the entire album, and the production, songwriting, and execution never falter. For fans of punk who are interested in serious ska music, this is the gateway you are looking for. 

One of my favorite songs from the LP is ‘Civil Surgery‘. It begins with the trumpet and trombone alternating measures and playing off one another before a quick guitar riff. Then a thick ass bass line enters when the horns return in tandem laying out the melody for the song. The song has just enough gang vocal “whoa”s  to encourage audience participation, with lyrics that make you want to sing along until we hit another extended instrumental portion.

It begins with a repeat of the horns from the intro then cuts to near silence over a single held note from the guitar and the continued bassline persisting. Two double beats from the drums thump like a heartbeat before the drummer begins setting the pace with cymbals, quietly counting time, building tension. A primal scream and the song resumes, horns coming back to the intro rhythm, but the tension makes everything feel more aggressive. As the final lyrics are shouted, the urgency and aggression is all encompassing. Kill Lincoln definitely mastered the art of aggression without sacrificing production

The one cover song from the album is ‘Womb Envy‘ originally by Paint it Black. This does a lot to show some of the influences Kill Lincoln has within punk, and if the 96 seconds of the original feels a little fast, Kill Lincoln shave about 15 seconds from that in their version. The lyrics and themes of the song fit in perfectly with the rest of the album- mental health, acceptance, community building, and struggling to avoid hopelessness in a bleak world. 

The album ends with the title track, ‘Can’t Complain‘ While musically, this song is every bit as good as any track on the album, it is definitely the last song on the album intentionally. The message of this song is the most important part, and when you shut off the album they want these words stuck in your head:

“When people struggle every day, when they have their rights taken away, You can’t just sit and say… I can’t complain. You know I can’t complain- I can be the change”.

Can’t Complain‘ by Kill Lincoln is out now. get links to streaming, merch and gig tickets HERE

  1. Greetings From Inner Space
  2. Used Up
  3. Last Ditch Denial
  4. Ignorance is Bliss
  5. Who Am I This Time?
  6. Confession Obsession
  7. Well Spent; Wasted
  8. Civil Surgery
  9. Quarantine Dream
  10. Womb Envy
  11. Can’t Complain
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