Space Monkey Mafia- “Banned From California”
Album Review by Joslyn Danielson
An explosion of ska enters the local music scene with the newly released album, “Banned From California” by Minneapolis’ own Space Monkey Mafia. This horn-centric, powerhouse rock group founded in 2016, and has been crushing it ever since. This is the band’s second full length album, the first being “Sorry For Your Time” from 2018. An EP titled “Captain Crook EP” followed shortly after in 2019. Just as they were gaining footing, the pandemic gave them a sucker punch.
Fueled by frustration at the current establishment, they took advantage of the pandemic and wrote/recorded the new album. They’re back and more passionate than ever, selling out their first show back since Covid in 2021. A national tour followed the release in May. The band played venues from Minnesota to Portland, and everywhere in between.
Cheeky lyrics and politically charged rants run rampant in their music. They playfully bash Chicago in a classic (passive-aggressive) midwest rivalry style (“Chicago”), and sing about the struggles of the millennial generation, reciting all the tropes and stereotypes flung at them by older generations (“Millennial Scum”).
Their sound is self-described as “anti-establishment anthems and self-care bangers”. Touching on topics such as the housing crisis, mental health, anti-capitalism, and mutual aid. Their lyrics offer a relatable perspective that is quickly gaining them a loyal following from all across the country.
However their music is anything but somber. They take their message and infuse it with a high-energy, danceable sound. Hard-hitting drums, plucky guitar strumming, and a wailing horn section give this band a nostalgic ska/punk vibe. They take these sounds of the 90’s/00’s and give it a contemporary twist, adding elements of math rock, soul, psych-rock, and more.
Joe and Blake are a dynamic duo on bass and guitar. Each a well-known figure in the scene, they deliver kick-ass bass lines and face-melting electric guitar solos, making these two the foundation of the tight instrumentation.
Eric on drums is the newest addition to the band but is already shining as the force behind the complex time signature changes. Coming from a jazz background he has the light touch for swing, as well as the chops for a powerful punk-rock sound.
The horn section is made up of Sam (trombone), Tim (saxophone), and Dante (saxophone). Their skill is evident in the tasty licks and swingy, big-band feels. Such is the pillar of ska music, the horns take on the lead instrumental melodies much of the time, or pop in for quick jazzy intervals during the verses.
While Dante is the lead singer on the majority of tracks, both Tim and Joe are regularly singing backup while simultaneously playing their perspective instruments. They both have songs they sing lead for as well. Their slightly different vocal tones add a nice variety throughout the album and shows the vastness of talent that runs through this group of people.
Dante’s exceptional vocal control and range separates him from the stereotypical expectations of punk vocalists being rugged or chaotic, giving the band an extra edge of sophistication. His lung capacity must be astronomical, as he constantly switches between belting lyrics and ripping out impressive saxophone solos – all the while jumping up and down or running full tilt through the audience. Theatrical and comedic at times, he possesses an exceptional stage presence and can get any crowd skanking and moshing like it’s 1999.
Each member of the band are experts in their craft, coming from all corners of the USA. Whether their expertise comes from a decade of playing in various bands, or from a degree in jazz, these professionals came together to make the music they love. Minneapolis is the perfect scene for a band like them. The comradery of our town and its love for music is evident, and is demonstrated in the chorus of “This Is We”.
“This is you, this is me
This is us, this is we
This is all of us together
Makes times a little better”