Acoustic ska. Back in the day when everything was Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, bold shapes and bright colours, I didn’t much care for acoustic ska. I had a track called “Cooper Station Blues” by a Venice Shoreline Chris right at the end of on an old (now legendary) Moon Ska NYC sampler disc, and I wasn’t too impressed. It was raw, muffled, dull and repetitive. Where was the brass? Where were the ten band members struggling to fit on stage?
Then, I started to see them live; Liam O’Kane of Jimmy the Squirrel; King Prawn’s Babar Luck; Itch from The King Blues armed only with his ukulele and Johnny One Lung of Suicide Bid and the Filaments singing a stripped down version of “When Morning Comes” supporting Mischief Brew. I was beginning to understand. Then finally I saw Chris Murray (AKA Venice Shoreline Chris) support Mustard Plug in Camden, playing to a sold out Underworld of fans singing along and shouting requests. Acoustic ska can’t hide behind distorted chords or brass (unless you’re the Coffee Project), everything is laid bare, and the gauntlet is thrown down to keep things interesting. Regrettably I am yet to see Drewvis live, but his latest album, Disposable Pleasures, and Meaningful Pursuits, released on legendary UK ska label Do The Dog Music, more than rises to this challenge.
Clean acoustic upstrokes form the absolute core of this record and are the unshakeable foundations on which everything else is built. The smooth playful bass of Paul Mason rides effortlessly throughout each track, showing off considerably on “One Moment” and “Purple”, while Sebastian Laverde’s vibrant percussion adds a wonderful rhythmic dynamic to the sound, particularly noticeable on “Liberate, Never Hate”. Drewvis’ vocals are highly distinctive throughout the album, singing in a range most male vocalists would shy away from. Far from being an uncomfortable falsetto however, his voice is lilting and mellow, washing lazily over the offbeat in catchy sing along melodies. The album also features female vocals, courtesy of Amanda Bes on “Estoy Esperando”, whose tones are sweet yet sultry, providing delightfully soft harmonies against the reggae beat. Drewvis clearly writes from the heart, with lyrics discussing life, friends and loves. The generous helping of love songs never once turn sickly and are, in fact, a welcome breath of fresh air when most of the music on my iPod is angry and political. Even punks need a little bit of down time.
It is worth mentioning that Drewvis has played in two other notable bands from the south east; in Out of Luck between 2001 and 2005, and alongside bassist Paul in Second Time Lucky from 2003 to 2009. His experiences have no doubt influenced him a great deal, cultivating gentle experiments with synthesisers in “Drunken Words N' Dub” and subtle flourishes of piano in “Compass”, “Purple” and “Fortune Cookie”. Ultimately, Drewvis keeps the acoustic ska fresh, interesting and honest, without overloading it with unnecessary noise.
Compared to his earlier release in 2008, For The Win (also on Do The Dog Music) this latest album arguably has a more mature quality; more relaxed and less hectic. That said, I won’t be giving up my copy of For The Win any time soon; “Nearly Departed” and “Resolution” both remain firm favourites and practically every track has been stuck in my head at one time or another. Both records, along with a more experimental album called Long Way To Go, are available to download from his bandcamp page which also includes a free 6 track collection of B sides titled For The Bin.
Drewvis is currently planning on playing a few international dates in 2012 but to keep up with all his latest news, you can follow him on twitter @Drewvis_UK.
If you ask nicely, he might even show you his personal collection of grilled egg photos.