Critics' Picks

The Toasters

When Rob "Bucket" Hingley moved from England to New York in 1982, he was shocked and dismayed to find that ska music had yet to make a dent in American pop consciousness. Instead of waiting for someone else to make it happen, Hingley decided to do it himself. He formed a band in Manhattan's Lower East Side, and in the process, he helped create a newer version of ska, along with Boston's Bim Skala Bim and Los Angeles' Fishbone. Commonly called Third Wave--early Jamaican and late-'70s Two-Tone being the first two, respectively--The Toasters' brand of ska combined the traditional Jamaican horn-section melodies and Two-Tone's chinka-chinka upbeat guitar rhythms. And with The Toasters leading the way, it also drew upon myriad musical influences: world jazz, rock and roll, punk, dub, reggae, and earlier ska bands. Everything was fair game to Hingley and The Toasters. The result was a sound that was respectful and irreverent--the past, present, and future of ska music with a beat you could dance to.

With almost two dozen releases to their credit (including the forthcoming Enemy of the State), The Toasters have become arguably the world's most successful and popular ska band. (Not counting, of course, the likes of No Doubt and Goldfinger, who stand on very shaky ground with the purists.) Since 1983's Beat Up, The Toasters have put out a slew of releases both internationally and on Hingley's Moon Ska label, self-touted as the world's No. 1 ska-only record label. They were the first American ska band to have releases come out simultaneously in the United States, Europe, South America, and Asia. Moon Ska also debuted second-tier stars such as Dancehall Crashers, Hepcat, and The Pietasters, among many others. (Every important ska band in the country has probably released something on Moon Ska at some point.) With The Toasters and Moon Ska, Hingley might not have singlehandedly made ska matter in the United States, but he's the only man who could legitimately make that claim.

Besides financial success and business acumen, Hingley and The Toasters have achieved a fair degree of musical respectability by weathering a revolving-door lineup, a torpedo that sinks bands pretty quickly. Throughout the almost 20-year history of the band, founder Hingley has remained the only constant member, employing more than 25 musicians over the countless releases. The high turnover rate (and the various members' influences) has made a difference in the music from album to album, sounding almost like a new band--which isn't far from the truth. That situation has slowed down considerably now that the band can afford to pay salaries. As such, fans of the band should recognize all members of The Toasters from their last club date in Dallas and their co-headlining gig with Less Than Jake on the Ska Against Racism tour that swung through Dallas Music Complex two years ago. That might be The Toasters' biggest accomplishment yet.

Yuval Weber