2021 was a busy year for US ska/punk/rock band Half Past Two. They not only released their self-titled full length – their first new work for a couple of years – and a well received video lamenting the perils of a ‘Scratched CD’, but they also returned to live work after a long spell away from the spotlight. In addition, they also found time to record a covers EP, based around a “holiday” theme.

Although geared up for a Christmas release, the choice of material isn’t actually festive. By taking a more generic idea of a “holiday”, the EP’s tracks can be enjoyed all year to maximise their potential. In the case of at least two of these recordings, fans will be more than glad there’s no need to sideline this work to a three week listening schedule every December.

The lead track is a great cover of Green Day’s ‘Holiday’. The light ska arrangement wastes no time in introducing the core Half Past Two sound, making it sound like a cast off from their self-titled disc with a barrage of clean toned guitar chords throwing out a shameless ska rhythm, whilst a full compliment of sassy brass fills plenty of space. Those well versed in the genre will, of course, recognise the bulk of the music being a direct – and on purpose – lift from Reel Big Fish’s ‘Beer’, but it’s a genuine master stroke. In a heartbeat, it takes one of Green Day’s bounciest singles and transport it into the realms of Save Ferris, complete with a sassy vocal courtesy of Tara Hahn. It all sounds so natural to the point of actually sounding like something you’ve always known – probably because you have, just not necessarily in this setting – but it actually gets better. For the instrumental break, the predictable ska elements get cast aside for a deeper reggae mood; Mark Anderson cranks the bass, drummer Dan Evans locks down a heady groove and via a few echoed effects, Half Past Two transition seamlessly from reworking the Reel Big Fish schtick to channelling an old Sublime deep cut, showing off a great versatility.

A tune familiar to all, Madonna’s ‘Holiday’ takes a little longer to attune since the opening refrain doesn’t actually suit brass that well, but crashing into the first verse, the listener gets to experience the band in full flight. Once metal edged guitars busy themselves behind a crashy rhythm and Hahn cries at full pelt the over familiar melody, the pop/rock/ska hybrid starts to fly and there’s little doubt that the focus is firmly on fun. The ska elements here continue to jar slightly, but there’s plenty within the playing that shines – especially Anderson’s bass work – and by the time the second half of the number finds its feet via a rather unexpected melodic hardcore breakdown, it’s guaranteed you’ll never hear the Madonna classic in the same way ever again.

A drastic speed driven reworking of Weezer’s ‘Holiday’ is a vast improvement on the original cut. Rivers Cuomo has attracted many fanboys and apologists, but so many of Weezer’s post-debut songs are dull, and in terms of arrangement, so much feels unnecessarily mid paced. There’s no issue with tempo or variety here: Half Past Two kick in with a speedy punk riff, drop into a pop-fuelled ska verse, shift into another melodic hardcore drop, and eventually end up somewhere where chunky guitars and horns collide for a full bodied face off. Hahn’s vocal is the essential glue throughout; her upbeat style, pulling elements of early Gwen Stafani and NY Loose into the twenty first century, more than gives this the brilliant spark needed. Taking something more from left field, another ‘Holiday’ (this time from the world of Vampire Weekend) delivers a barrage of classic horns against a echoing drum and rocksteady rhythm, taking the ska elements into a place where they owe more to Lyn Taitt, Stranger Cole and the first wave pioneers. It really doesn’t matter that the source material is perhaps less familiar; the playing is strong enough throughout to carry the material on its own merits, and between a great bass groove, natural vocal and great rhythm, Half Past Two’s light reggae credentials are more than solid.

For lovers of good ska/pop, this will certainly offer a really fun listen. It’s great to hear a couple of well worn favourites in a new light, and the welcome improvement on the Weezer tune pretty much seals the deal in making this as an essential download. With ‘Holidays’, it turns out that Half Past Two have been doubly smart: not only does this fit with an almost “anywhere, anytime” listening ethos, the arrangements are sharp enough to make anyone unfamiliar with the band want to back track and listen to the ‘Half Past Two’ album of original material almost immediately. It’s a win/win. Grab a download of this now – you honestly won’t regret it.

December 2021