I'm not quite certain what still draws me to skateboard culture. Despite not being able to land so much as an ollie, years of friends that skate, skate videos, skate-themed music, thrasher musicians and skate-related films (especially the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys) and video games (the cheesy-yet-endearing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series) have erected a special place for skate culture in my heart. This fondness is only compounded by images and accounts of the '70s and '80s, whose washed out stills and footage offer more to me in raw character than any modern high-powered camera could ever hope to provide.
In that case, it's no surprise that I instantly gravitated to the cover of Coolrunnings' Babes Forever EP; that naked, bronzed woman on her '80s-style board is, to me, the perfect image of freedom, and I'd tack it up on my wall if I could. However, before even setting eyes on the cover, I'd already fallen in love with Coolrunnings' sound, and all because of one song, the evocatively-titled “When I Got High With You.”
Opening simultaneously with a reverb-laden drum machine beat and a dreamy synth fade-in, “When I Got High With You” is the type of song that I instantly gravitate toward. Soon following the opening, the drum machine is bolstered by the beat's true heart, some looping, echo-y, harp-esque keyboard plinks that are forever attached mentally for me to the soundtrack to a certain cave level in Super Mario World, no matter their similarity or lack therefore to the music from the level itself. Vocals enter at about 25 seconds, and stay in close proximity for the rest of the song. The final barb of the hook is the lyrics, whose opening quatrain is “I don't know what I was dreamin' 'bout/When I woke up at two/Spent the whole night drinkin'/And just thinkin' 'bout when I got high with you.” It's that combination of triumphant slackerdom and pure nostalgia that really drew me to this song, and that same formula is carried through an EP's worth of sonically diverse and on the whole intriguing material.
The first noticeable thing about album opener “San Dimas Oasis,” is its difference from “When I Got High With You.” Sonic non-uniformity is sort of a theme amongst Coolrunnings songs, but an equally unifying thread running through the remaining five tracks could be “five songs that don't sound like 'When I Got High With You.'” “San Dimas Oasis” brings immediacy in place of the other song's slow burn, showcasing the band's unique keyboard-friendly post-punk meets surf rock style. Its lyrical themes remain familiar, with sleeping, relationships and wistfulness covered as heavily in this track as the former. “San Dimas Oasis” offers a better look at the rest of the band's talents, with jangly, tropicalia-meets-post-punk guitar lines reminiscent of Abe Vigoda circa Skeleton. The guitar work rounds out the band's sound, and the strength of “San Dimas Oasis” is enough to make it okay that the band didn't write the same (excellent) song over and over for the length of an EP.
“San Dimas Oasis” ends abruptly, and we smash-cut to the EP's eponymous second track. We're launched directly into a minute's worth of high-energy keyboard and drum work, until a left-turn sudden fade into an “Ooooooh, oooooh” vocal line that opens the song proper. The song loses most of the energy built up in the intro, and the opening lyrics “Don't want to think that I'm just a friend/It's not the way that I'd thought it'd end/Let's drink some whiskey, let's get fucked up/I'll fill your glass, you fill my cup” don't hit as strongly as others on the record. Further lyrics also reveal another quirk of Coolrunnings' style, a tendency toward strange, oblique storytelling choices such as “Do you remember we got so drunk/And I asked you to be too good to me.” The song's chorus, “I love you forever/I want to show you that I mean no harm/Babes forever/I want to show you that I mean no – ” along with more of those sweet guitar lines are the song's saving grace, forgiving structural oddities and lyrical quirks with pure catchy, head-nodding goodness.
The more down-tempo “Better Things” brings the EP back on track with a sweet, simple arrangement, setting the stage for the album's centerpiece, the aforementioned “When I Got High With You.” Strong opening guitar lines and an opening hook of “Things aren't what they seem/And nothing's real/I don't wanna feel – /Like I'm not bad enough to deal” cement the album's thematic elements and offers a common ground that makes its diverse structural and instrumental choices make sense.
Sped up fake drums and paranoid 8-bit keys open “Trippin' Balls at Der Wienerschnitzel,” a narration of a bad trip perfectly embodied by its instrumental counterparts. “Denied a ride home/Can I have a ride home?” goes its insistent chorus. While not the album's strongest offering, its themes of loneliness and substance use/abuse follow one of the record's main thematic threads, and its dark, fast feel propels the listener to “Slumberland,” the album's closer and one of several high notes.
With all of its quirks, Babes Forever is a great introduction/sampler platter for Coolrunnings' vibrant, tough-to-quantify slacker style. Since the band's full-length debut, Teenage Tennessee, is due in the next few months, now is the perfect time to get familiar with a band who, judging from their energy and prolific nature, just might be around for a while. A few tracks from the new album, such as the superb “Chorus,” are available for free from Dracula Horse, as well as Babes Forever and the band's other EP, Buffalo.
Standout tracks: “When I Got High With You,” “San Dimas Oasis,” “Slumberland”
Also check out: “Chorus” from Teenage Tennessee, “Road to Nowhere (Talking Heads Cover)” [Purchasable from the band's Bandcamp] and “Burnout” from Buffalo