Umbrella Bed – Refill EP Review

Umbrella Bed  is a ska/2tone/alternative group whose wildly energetic live shows have brought them across Europe twice as well as many major shows in the U.S. Inspired by acts like English Beat and the Dead Milkmen, Umbrella Bed have teamed up with independent anti-racist and socially conscious label Mad Butcher Records to release the brand new EP, Refill.

Picking up on a 2Tone ska sound might have seemed like a strange choice in the summer of 1995 when Umbrella Bed first assembled itself into existence. After all, the 2Tone ska sound had a very shortlived period 15 years earlier and, without a doubt, in 1995 the newly reborn ska genre ‘third wave’ was creating a much harder edged ska sound.

Thirdwave ska was very much guided by the rise of the alternative music scene and infused ska with a more punk/grunge bent. It moved the ska sound pretty far away from 2Tone’s inherent pop roots. But 2Tone’s shorter life had also left a lot of room to explore. And explore Umbrella Bed has.

Five full length releases, hundreds of wildly energetic shows and two European tours later, doing anything but build on 2Tone’s legacy would have been a tragic loss. By taking the alternative minded but accessible framework the 2Tone sound offered and infusing it with it’s own diverse sensibilities and influences, Umbrella Bed discovered a unique blend which resonates as something different in the alternative music realm and also something with mass appeal.

The band also independently released full length albums in 1996 (King Size) and 1998 (Monkey’s and Rivets). Distributed by OarFin Records, both were solid sellers. In 2003 a relationship with German based label Mad Butcher Records marked a new phase of work. Umrella Bed has since released three albums: 2003’s Last Band Standing, 2005’s One Small Skank… and 2008’s GO on the independent internationally distributed anti-racist and socially conscious label.

Each album is wrapped beautifully in a 2Tone framework while infusing swing, punk, reggae, Latin, new wave and good traditional Jamican sounds with the Refill EP following suit. Lyrically Umbrella Bed’s sardonic take on love and politics are the well layered finishing touches.

As a live act Umbrella Bed has also played support role to a who’s who in the ska/reggae world including The Skatalities, The Specials, English Beat, The Toasters, Mustard Plug, King Chango, MU330, Mad Sin, The Selector and many others.

The band’s primary line up has rotated some over the years but has remained largely intact. Lead vocalist Hellrocket, drummer Dutch Buddha, trombonist Al Teagarden and ska’s premier French Horn player Eva Washburn have been around from day one. Trombonist O’Joya and saxophonist DJ WayCool have been with the band nearly a decade. Recent additions Franknos on bass and Rude Boy Bandit on guitar have added a new youth movement to a band on the tail end of its second decade proving there is a lot more history to come.

The band have released two new music videos in support of the EP, Two Tone Monster and Wish That It Would Stop. The new EP Refill is five tracks of ska bliss. Starting track Wish That It Would Stop introduces this band’s energy from the first note. Despite the song’s downbeaten message with the lyrics, “I live a life that I hate/I hate it/Just really hate it” this song is considerably upbeat with the ska tones lifting your mood. The second track Gone Away introduces a darker side to Umbrella Bed’s music. It has an unnerving, wistful guitar riff accompanied by a repetitive bass line and drum beat.

Got It Wrong Now is a lively, danceable number with juxtaposing lyrics. It tells a sad story about someone who has misinterpreted the intensity of a relationship, “You seem a little in doubt…I got it wrong now/You’ll never say I do”.

Two Tone Monster is a bit of a silly song about the band’s chosen choice of genre, 2Tone ska. It’s a harmless pop/ska song with some awesome trumpet solos. Dubb Away finishes the EP perfectly. As the title suggests, it’s a completely instrumental track highlighting the drum and bass rhythms. Dubb Away allows Umbrella Bed to really show off their musicality – they are brilliant at creating jazz influenced ska beats that just fit together perfectly.

After watching Umbrella Bed’s latest videos, you’ll understand why this band has the reputation it does. All the members are full of life and passion – they enjoy performing and creating music whether it be about politics or just nonsense, far from important life events. It’s a little bit like watching your Dad in a band – it’s slightly embarassing first of all, you’re not sure what to make of it but then you become proud. If these guys still have this amount of energy nearly two decades into their career, they are doing well. You can’t fault them for that.

Umbrella Bed don’t conform in the way other bands might – they don’t claim to have the best vocals, the greatest sense of fashion or looks like Kate Beckingsale or Johnny Depp. You get what you see – down to earth people making music and having fun.

The new EP Refill is out now.

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