Otto’s Shrunken Head is best known as a relic of a long-gone, gritty East Village punk rock scene – and one of the most notorious tourist traps in town on the weekend. Be that as it may, Otto’s was one of the first New York venues to reopen after live music had been criminalized in 2020. Vestiges of its second-gen claim to punk rock fame remain, and these days there are still punk and punk-adjacent sounds like ska and surf rock in the little back room on the off weekend. This Friday night, Jan 20 there’s a ska bill that looks pretty awesome, starting at 8 with Skappository – who are anything but anal – followed at 9 by Drop Party, one of the most original and unpredictable bands who sprang from the ska scene in the zeros. The mystery headline act call themselves Cenzo: good luck finding them on the web.
The centerpiece of the show is Drop Party. They play a wildly multistylistic blend of Crescent City brass band music, oldschool soul, ska, funk, classic disco and psychedelia, typically in the same song. Their musicianship is as tight as their jams are unpredictable. They put out a debut album, Lean Into the Wave, in 2018, which is still up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. Even better, they managed to regroup and put out a handful of singles last year, all of which you can snag for whatever you feel like paying, or not.
The first is Disco Ranger, which starts out as a straight-up wah-wah disco tune. But then the band turn it into a ferocious mashup, part New Orleans second-line march, hard funk and a wistful cinematic theme. New York used to abound with imaginative, outside-the-box horn-driven bands like this: the Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Mamarazzi, Super Hi-Fi, to name a few.
The second single is Mental Health, which is more of a straight-up New Orleans tune, with blazing horns from trumpeter Dan Raccuia and tenor sax player Jacob Raccuia over the slinky swing of bassist Jake Krasniewicz and drummer Zach Rader. Guitarist Jeff Wickun contributes a couple of jagged, tantalizingly brief solos.
Likewise, the band rise from an undulating groove to a sprint and then a dubwise LA lowrider interlude in the third single, Horns Up. Wickun takes over the mic briefly on the last one, What Can I Say, a sly disco strut.
The album is also worth grabbing. It’s a lot harder and more solo-centric. The opening track is a darkly blazing ska tune that’s skittish bordering on frantic, with a smoky sax solo midway through. The Mountain is a cinematic gem, veering from roadhouse funk to getaway theme to icepick skank.
The first of the big epics is On the Up & Up, part classy 70s soul-jazz, part sunny roots reggae and eventually a hard-driving minor-key ska theme. In First Contact, the band veer from Booker T soul, to a second-line march, some oldschool disco and noir ska, with a goofy joke that’s too good to give away.
The band do the same in Big Harry, switching on a dime between noir ska, dub and bluesy, psychedelic soul. One Small Favour is twelve minutes of eerily lingering psychedelia, Lynchian soul, twisted circus rock and an irresistible trick ending.
The final cut Captain’s Orders, a wild mix of oldschool soul, action film score and smoky reggae. Grab this while it lasts.