Catch 22: Alone in a Crowd

Catch 22
Alone in a Crowd

Wow…now, that’s an unexpected feeling. The last thing I expected when I threw on the latest from Victory’s lone ska-punk band, Catch 22, was to end up depressed, but…well, here I am. “Depressing ska?,” you’re probably thinking, “No way; not possible.” I wouldn’t have thought so myself, but Alone is so bleak and compelling that it really does fit the bill. The title of the record says it all — this album’s all about loneliness, about being lost and alone. In the span of something like 40 minutes, these Jersey kids hit all the bases: suicide; love-gone-wrong; murder; joining a cult; taking drugs; losing friends…reading the words, it’s as much of a downer as your average Tom Waits album, and almost as full of stories (another surprise for a ska-punk band, incidentally).

It seems like there’s actually one story running throughout, basically revolving around a boy and girl who kill the girl’s dad and run away to California. They split up somehow and go their separate ways, the boy homeless and hungry on the west coast and the girl deep in the despair on the east. Eventually, the girl sinks so far down that she kills herself, just as the boy comes to find her, and then he’s torn apart and looking for something to believe in. “What Goes Around Comes Around” starts off this little story arc, and an oddly-similar scenario unfolds in “Bloomfield Ave.”, with “Neverending Story” serving as the conclusion, where the boy finally starts to find his way back from the bottom.

Along the way, of course, there’s also “Sounds Good, But I Don’t Know”, which is a fast, frantic ramble about getting lost in the city and not having the money to get back home, the hardcore-ish “Hard to Impress” (featuring Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta on guest vocals), which is essentially an open letter to a cruel ex-friend, and “Guilty Pleasures”, an ode to “the good old days” that we’ll unfortunately never see again. The music is cheery, fast, and melodic as hell, making me think of fellow ska-punkers Less Than Jake more than anything else (not a bad band to be compared to, by the way), but the lyrics sung/shouted over the top belie that happy feel.

I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised — the band’s debut on Victory, Keasbey Nights, was almost a gritty gangster fantasy (of the Capone variety, not Snoop Doggy Dogg), and it, too, was a pretty dark album, ending almost the way this one does. Alone closes with the title track, a decidedly un-ska campfire singalong that features quiet, folksy guitar and which is all about yearning to be back home with the ones you love. Granted, it’s not the greatest song, musically, but when was the last time a ska band visited this kind of territory?