I’ve been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new disc from New York City’s Pilfers for months, and I’m glad to say that it was well worth the wait! Chawalaleng is a logical yet surprising progression from their self-released debut, taking their distinctive, original, and heavy ska sound to the next level. The result is an accessible and exciting record that could single-handedly reignite mainstream interest in ska-oriented music, and one of the more compelling releases to make it’s way to my ears this year.

I was a little surprised by the overall darker feel of Chawalaleng . Where the band’s debut was anthemic and explosive, this record is heavier and more atmospheric. There’s a definite weight to most of the album, a density that would ordinarily be more at home on a metal or industrial record than in ska music, but somehow, Pilfers make it work. “Mr. Exploita” slithers along like a snake on the back of Anna Milat-Meyer’s wicked bassline and Coolie Ranx’s magnetic vocals, while “Why” has a sinister and sexy vibe that hypnotizes the listener the same way a vampire uses his gaze to seduce a nubile young female victim. Likewise Milat-Meyer’s bass drives the downright spooky title track, which features Vinny Nobile’s ever-masterful trombone work.

That’s not to say that the whole record is dark, though. “What’s New (Here We Go Again)” has a poppy, almost 2 Tone flavor sure to get the dance floors moving, and tracks like “Agua” and “Choose Life” have that old shout-along flavor. “Lay” marries the anthemic qualities to Pantera-worthy guitar riffs and an truly unusual bridge, and “Skungle” is dancehall riddims contrasted with more metallic guitar courtesy of Nick Bacon.

A few tracks from the self-released debut also resurface here, in all-new, all different versions. “Climbing” gets a darker, heavier groove with some cool vocal effects, while “Saga” brings Vinny’s vocals to the foreground for a poppier feel, and “Hypnotized” gets a downright spooky bridge to go with it’s chugga-chugga guitars and malevolent trombone. I was also pleasantly surprised at the inclusion of “Legal Shot Pam Pam,” a song Coolie was performing in embryonic form with the Toasters years ago. It’s a definite highlight of this record, with Coolie’s inimitable toasting and the addition of a Blondie-esque guitar line and a “street” feel that would be right at home on a Lucious Jackson record.

Overall, Chawalaleng would be a worthwhile collection to any record collection. Once again, Pilfers marry the best elements of a variety of music to create a sound all their own, without losing the ska roots. Even if you’re not a ska fan, I’d urge you to check this one out — I’m certain you’ll find something of interest, no matter what your tastes.

Mojo Records, 1453 14th Street, Box 284, Santa Monica, CA 90404; http://www.pilfers.com

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