Mar 112020

Under the Radar shines a light on lesser-known cover artists. If you’re not listening to these folks, you should. Catch up on past installments here.

The Holophonics

I am converted; ska punk is rad. You might think this is a wacky genre that could only be found in the depths of Every Noise at Once, but the genre has roots in the ’70s UK rock scene and has made its way into mainstream music with bands like No Doubt (think “Spiderwebs”). Ska punk is apparently on the verge of a revival this year, with The Interrupters opening the joint tour of Green Day, Weezer, and Fall Out Boy this summer.

The Holophonics are a sextet from Texas who both make original ska punk music and bring spa punk flair to covers. Since the band formed in 2018, they have released a whopping 14 cover albums, cleverly labeled “maskarades,” including one just released at the end of February, amongst their original work. I did a deep dive into their expansive discography and now will gladly take you on a sonic tour. You are going to hear a lot of opinionated horns and a lot of assertive vocals, and it is going to be glorious.

The Holophonics – Believe In What You Want (Jimmy Eat World cover)

I’ve been trying to convince others of the poignancy of Jimmy Eat World since “The Middle” spoke to something deep inside of me (don’t write them off just yet!), so I knew I would like the Holophonics as soon as I saw that they paid homage to the band with a complete cover album (I was so relieved to find out this was a sincere choice). For their choice of album, they went for Clarity, which on the Jimmy Eat World timeline occurs before their fourth-album breakthrough Bleed American. This version uncovers one of the many gems of earnestness in this album including this line that just cuts me to my core: “Oh please keep in sight what makes you care, you have it always.” Right from the beginning we hear the horns setting a peppy tone, but the vocals anchor us to our brooding feelings.

The Holophonics have two other complete cover albums, Maroon 5’s Maps and Saves the Day’s Stay Where You Are, but the rest of their massive cover discography vary from themed albums (Skalloween, Awesome ’80s) to eclectic grab bags of songs you didn’t know you needed to hear as ska punk. The band covers a little bit of everything, from new hits to throwbacks that will hit you right in the nostalgia. Even within an album, the variety of musical styles varies.

If you want something a bit more traditional, try the smooth “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” the jaunty “Never Gonna Give You Up,” or the earnest “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Songs like “It Wasn’t Me” and “You Can Call Me Al” really lean into the ska style. More in the mood to reminisce about your angsty teen years? Try “In the End,” or “Helena.”

The Holophonics – Fatlip (Sum 41 cover)

The true blend of ska and punk occurs on songs like this cover of “Fat Lip.” It can best be described as yelling plus brass, emo but with some added pep. Many of the Holophonics cover songs have an accompanying video like this one so we can see the dynamics between the bandmates. Everyone gets a chance to contribute, and you can really see what it means for brass to rock out. For more of their songs with this flavor of surprise brass amongst the traditional rock elements, check out “Jessie’s Girl,” and “On My Mind.” In “Jessie’s Girl,” the sudden appearance of brass reminds me of the Love Actually scene when (spoiler alert) the band pops up from amongst the wedding guests to serenade the newlyweds. “On My Mind” pairs horns with gravelly vocals in the bridge.

The Holophonics – Till the World Ends (Britney Spears cover)

Some truly “masked” covers are ones where I didn’t even recognize the original at first; the identity of the song crept up on me. Songs like this one (and “Applause”) really shine in this way. In this cover, steady percussion and bracing brass take the place of the dance beat after choruses. The bass joins in to keep the tempo and energy up.

What can I say, I’m charmed by this band. Their attention to detail packs a punch when you least expect it. Listen for a Dora the Explorer shout-out in “Maps,” a Rocky tribute in “Roar,” and a subtle meme reference at the very end of “How You Remind Me.” This post wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to the name of their 13th cover album, Yeah, But Also Check Out Our Original Music. They bring their same energy to their original songs; these two are personal favorites.

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