Long Beach Dub Allstars / Rx Bandits

Wonders of the World (Dreamworks), Progress (Drive Thru)

If the number of times that 1) KTCL plays a dusty Sublime track each day and 2) songs from 40 Oz. to Freedom are blasted out of the back of a Jeep are any way to judge such things, there's a big void that's gone unfilled since the death of Sublime singer/guitarist Brad Nowell. And if there's a band that's poised to take the reigns for the punk/dub trio, it's the Long Beach Dub Allstars, a seven-piece combo that features Sublime bassist Eric Wilson and drummer Bud Gaugh along with a mess of new faces. So far, the act has primarily served as the world's most glorified Sublime cover band -- its live shows tend to feature more covers than original numbers -- though its sophomore effort takes a few steps outside of Sublime's shadow. Too bad they are generally shaky steps.

While Nowell apparently did not bequeath his catchy vocals to his surviving bandmates, there are a few tunes that reveal he wasn't Sublime's sole talent: "Sunny Hours" is a crunchy number that mates Smash Mouth-style pop guitars with toasting courtesy of the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am; "Rolled Up" is a Rudie-can't-make-bail track that doesn't try to disguise its Sublime-like tendencies. But it's clear early on that the Allstars aren't quite as well qualified to represent the Long Beach Crew as they'd like to think. Though Wonders of the World contains a few well-worked So Cal dub numbers, there are a lot more pure Caribbean sounds than anything else. Peppered with long, spacey dub jams and standard-issue ska/rock-steady tunes, the Allstars' turn here lacks much of the identity that defined Sublime's reign as purveyors of California punk/dub.

The Rx Bandits, meanwhile, have positioned themselves to inherit Sublime's punky third-wave ska influences rather than its preoccupation with the Green Island. Fast-action up-stroke guitars jump into full-blown rock choruses in nearly every song. Though they indulge plenty of pop-punk catchiness, the Bandits also play with groove-riding bass lines and skanky guitars ("Consequential Apathy") as well as the occasional jamdown ("Babylon"). Instead of Sublime's smoke-two-joints party mentality, the Bandits come forward with a bit of a social conscience on Progress. Amorphous left-wing themes are weaved through songs that urge listeners to ignore the media's cultural schedule ("Analog Boy") or belatedly bemoan the conflict in Rwanda ("In All Rwanda's Glory"). The Rx Bandits may sound the way that rowdy good-time band Sublime occasionally sounded, but there's a lot more than beer and weed that drives their songs.

 
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