The eclecticism begins to sound all of a piece, but even within a single song the band can go in surprising directions.
Skyjelly Jones took his band’s name from a substance he read about called star jelly – sticky matter found at meteorite crash sites. He remembered the name wrong, but it stuck.
Traversing indie rock, experimental jams and brooding drones, the Boston quartet has the chops to shape its sprawling aesthetic into something like a coherent form. But part of the band’s charm is in its explorative journey. After you’ve listened to its latest album Góst Rock a few times, the eclecticism begins to sound all of a piece, but even within a single song the band can go in surprising directions.
Only six tracks long, the album doesn’t quite get at the full range heard on last year’s double album Blank Panthers / Priest, Expert or Wizard, but it still has time to veer from swampy rock to a soaring semi-pop song to extended psychedelia.
With a vocal that’s little more than the repetition of the title, opener “Seamagnet’s the Bullet” has a steady beat and guitars that sustain the track for over six minutes, starting with a lightly amplified circular riff before more electric solos break out.
Band arrangements are deceptively simple, with tracks often starting with a spaced-out drone. But then a drum fill takes the beat in a different direction and a guitar solo bursts into beautiful distortion (on opener ‘Seamagnet’s the Bullet”) or a restrained searching that vaguely suggests Tom Verlaine (on “Energy Vampire Weekend,” which doesn’t sound anything like it’s sort of namesake).
“High Neighbor” is the album’s highpoint and most relatively conventional track, its rippling guitar lacing folk with hints of motorik kraut rock. After a verse about breaking out of jail, the title euphoria is soon evoked by soaring vocal chants and that gorgeous guitar line. The track breaks down as the high diminishes and Skyjelly moves from a four-minute potential-indie-single to a 13-minute envelope-pusher. Mostly instrumental, “You’re in a Chair in the Sky” keeps a steady pulse thanks to the band’s rhythm section, while guitars move in and out of restrained free-form solos that occasionally turn to the blues. It’s Skyjelly at its most ambitious – and the band certainly has the musicianship to carry it off – but it’s the album’s weak point.
The almost country-tinged instrumental “Two Hawks” sets us back on course, a repeating guitar figure evoking birds of prey flying over them. The misleadingly titled “Blowing Up My Mind” closes the album on a slow, somber note. Here gently amplified guitars again build something of a minimalist drone that the band carries off for nearly eight-and-a-half dreamlike minutes.
Góst Rock sounds like it must have influences that you recognize, but you can’t quite put a finger on them. In a 2014 interview, Jones was asked about possible reference points like Muslimgauze and the Sun City Girls, but he confessed he hadn’t even heard of them. The band’s Facebook biography is simple: “an experiment gone awry now roams the countryside and is rumored to be responsible for the disappearance of livestock.” Skyjelly has a dry sense of humor for such mind-expanding music, but the alien-looking rodent pictured on the limited pink cassette edition of the album indeed suggests a kind of omnivorous predator ready to break into your barnyard, devour your cattle and excrete psychedelic hooks.