Buck-O-Nine
FunDayMental
(Cleopatra Records)

Don’t call it a comeback because Buck-O-Nine never left us. Since forming in San Diego nearly three decades ago, the celebrated ska-punk septet have continued to consistently perform live to fans both old and new. In that spirit FunDayMental, their first album in 12 years, proves that time has only made their songwriting skills stronger. The band’s sixth full-length sees them once again combining elements of reggae, rocksteady, rock and punk into a unique amalgam of music that the act has pioneered since 1991. Amazingly, their lineup also features six out of seven founding members and their “newest” musician, bassist Andy Platfoot, has been in the band for 19 years. That sort of history makes Buck-O-Nine less of a band than they are a family and that dynamic is evident on all 14 songs on FunDayMental, which includes the band’s new material alongside reworked versions of fan favorites “My Town” and “Irish Drinking Song.”

Although frontman Jon Pebsworth and guitarist Jonas Kleiner had kicked around the idea of recording a follow-up to 2007’s Sustain for years, the real catalyst for FunDayMental was when Cleopatra Records asked the band to contribute a song for their 2017 compilation, Punk Rock Halloween: Loud, Fast & Scary. “When we sent in the song, the label was really excited about it and asked if we’d want to do an entire album and it just felt like the right time,” Pebsworth explains. (A re-recorded version of that song, “Don’t Be Afraid,” is also included on the album.) However the process of writing and recording wasn’t quite as straightforward as many of the members of Buck-O-Nine—which also features trombonist Dan Albert, trumpet player Tony Curry, drummer Steve Bauer and saxophonist Craig Yarnold—are currently spread out across the country. However thanks to modern technology, the band members were able to email files and song ideas to each other, which allowed these songs to take form without them needing to physically be in the same room.

“It was pretty wild because each guy had guy a little spot set up in their house where we could each record and we would all spend a lot of late nights, texting and talking and hashing out song ideas while our families were asleep,” Pebsworth explains. Even more fortuitous is the fact Curry is now a tech support expert, so he was able to produce the album from his own home studio and handle all of the technical issues that arose during the process. Finally for the final recording Bauer and Pebsworth traveled to San Diego to record their tracks with Curry, mindful to maintain the adventurous spirit of the demos. “What was cool about having someone from the band produce the album instead of someone from the outside is the fact that we’ve been together for so long that if one of us says they don’t like an idea or they think it could be better, I’m going to be less defensive because I trust them and they’re my boys,” Pebsworth adds.

That spirit of trust and camaraderie is present all over FunDayMental. From the distorted guitars and syncopated drums that kick off the energetic opener “Paint The Night Red” to the downbeat reggae vibe of the harmony-rich “In My Room” and the infectious feel-good grove of “Tuff Rudeboy,” FunDayMental sees Buck-O-Nine once again showcasing their innate ability to combine genres with ease while still maintaining their distinctive sonic identity. “We’ve always been considered part of the ’90s third-wave ska category but we’ve always wanted to push ourselves and do new things that are fun,” Pebsworth explains, adding that this evolution is already obvious to fans of their difficult-to-categorize albums such as 1997’s Twenty-Eight Teeth and 1999’s Libido. “Ultimately we are seven different guys who all listen to very different types of music and I think that diversity really comes through on this album.”

Pebsworth also stretched out on the album and used some of the tricks he learned making solo recordings under the name PEBS to take his writing and and impassioned vocal stylings to the next level. “Everyone in the band is getting up there in age and one of the cool things about that is as you get older you start to feel a little more comfortable in the world and less worried about things,” he explains when asked about how he approached the album lyrically. “You start to find a little bit more comfort in yourself and I think I was in a much better place when I was writing these lyrics than I’ve been in the past.” Correspondingly FunDayMental contains its share of love songs, including the album closer “Dust It Off,” which is about being mature enough to admit your mistakes and not let pride dictate your behaviors. “That song is really special to me because it’s very personal and centers around the idea of struggling when love is on the rocks and someone decides to leave and then they come back. You’ve got to dust yourself off and figure out how to make things right.”

From the inspired re-recording of their 1997 breakthrough hit “My Town” to FunDayMental’s anthemic title track, there truly is something for everyone on the album—and you’d be hard-pressed to find a band who have a better time making music together. “These are the people I’ve spent the best years of my life alongside, so the opportunity to collaborate in the studio again and reconnect in that way was so rewarding for all of us,” Pebsworth explains. There aren’t many bands that can maintain a consistent lineup for 28 years, let alone make a new album that sounds as inspired as the band did during their heyday. Thankfully, Buck-O-Nine have never been the type of band who follow conventions and their steadfast dedication to creativity is what makes FunDayMental such a satisfying listen.