New band of the week. How many new bands formed last week? I'm no mathematician, but I bet it's literally loads. So, in the face of sheer numbers, what can you do to stand out? It's no longer enough to get up onstage and be loud for thirty minutes; your loudness has to be coloured with something. What about being loud and colourful? What about being full of personality and shouting about it? What about blaring characters? Well that's one way to describe Medway act Crybaby Special, who earlier this year released their first album No Excuses on independent record label The Preservation Society Presents.
Their album introduces itself wisely with perhaps the band's best loved song, title track 'No Excuses'. Opening with a pair of sour seventh chords separated by a semitone (D7 and Db7, if you're curious) Jason Stafford sings the bewitching chorus melody with crazed commitment, before the band launches into their trademark punkpolka style. In live performances those arpeggiated, shaggydog opening chords always elicited great anticipation, and soon afterwards the room would be reverberating with an irresistible mass singalong.
Singing along with Crybaby Special, though, is not always easy to manage. Stafford's voice is a furious concoction of guttural snarls and psychopathic vibrato; he often sounds both spooked and spooky. Trying to match him line for line will give you a sore throat, and you'll have lost your voice before you get the end of the song. The single 'One Winged Bird' sees Stafford making like The Black Riderera Tom Waits with his carnivalesque calls and hollers. Later, on 'Beelzebub Boogie', the vocal effect puts one in mind of Korn's Jonathan Davis at his most freakishly strange.
Although the band's USP is undoubtedly Stafford, they're very much a musical unit; each member plays an integral role. Bassist Josh Carson is often the anchor of the bobbing polka, but he's just as often the flighty fingers beneath Stafford's crowsfeet rhythm guitar. On 'I Got It Wrong' and 'Murder In The Wall' his nimble and hooky bass playing enlivens the mix. Lewis Ashley on drums completes the permanent trio, and throughout this album and elsewhere he shows great command of dynamics and helms the band very capably. His piece of their puzzle is essential.
Crybaby Special are Champions of the scene in Medway, and I mean that in two ways. Firstly, they are absolutely a toptier act, a class act even. Secondly, and more importantly, they champion the scene in Medway. They are unfailingly charitable to other bands. They frequently host open mic nights in local pubs and bars, and can be found attending as many shows as they put on. They're scenemakers, things happen around them because they make them happen.
Having been more or less omnipresent in various live circles the band have recently taken time out to write new material, which will emerge in some form next year. Who knows how far they can go? Luck has everything to do with whether or not you're successful, but if the light of luck does chance upon Crybaby Special they'll have done enough to be noticed, to stand out. Medway would be poorer for losing them, but I'll speak for the towns and say that if it meant a few of our most characterful sons broke out in a fit of success, we'd gladly take the hit.