Skeletons: Money




Rating: 4.0

Label: Tomlab

Sometimes you just need a relaxing, gentle and unobtrusively quiet album. Something to calm your nerves, convince you the world isn’t heading straight for the shitter and reinforce your belief that the mortal coil to which you’re currently attached won’t spiral hopelessly out of control as you sleep at night. Something that raises your spirits, keeps the wolves (at least momentarily) at the door, and maybe even brings a few laughs or moments of joy, however fleeting or temporary.

Money, the latest release from indie band Skeletons, is not that album.

Abrasive and jarring, with enough abrupt musical stops, starts and stylistic changes to give the listener an acute case of vertigo, it’s an unsettling and disorienting listen. It blends guitars, drums, keyboards and a small army of horns with experimental electronic noises and beats, often mashed into disquieting throb. Yet if you’re wired a certain way – and if you’re reading this review on this particular website, you probably are – it’s an innovative, compelling and addictive album.

The band, founded by lead singer Matt Mehlan and at this time including Jon Leland, Tony Lowe, and Jason McMahon, has certainly traversed such ground previously. 2005’s Git and 2007’s Lucas both relied heavily on divergent musical styles and movements within their songs; no sooner was a particular melody or rhythm established before it was violently abandoned in favor of a new one. Though both those albums occasionally sounded almost overly clinical in their precision and instrumental contrasts, suggesting an inordinate amount of post-production “fine-tuning,” they were still unique enough to warrant some much-deserved attention in indie circles.

For the most part, {Money} is more successful in this atmospheric approach than those two previous albums; it sounds rawer and less polished, even if the press release’s claim that the album was recorded live is a tough sell.

The album carries an air of claustrophobia; opening track “Fill My Pockets Full” repeats a monotonous keyboard line against a backdrop of bleating car horns. Other tracks reinforce the sudden and unnerving musical shifts that characterize much of the album. “The Things,” “Ripper a.k.a. The Pillows,” “Stepper a.k.a. Work” and “Eleven (It’ll Rain!)” incorporate horns, drums and guitars with various electronic noises and pulses in a repeating pattern only to short-circuit before the listener has a chance to get grounded, each song shifting to disparate and often violent new musical thoughts. Mehlan’s falsetto voice creates an odd effect against the music; at times somewhat reminiscent of Thom Yorke, he tends to sing at the same pace regardless of the instrumentation.

These various musical ticks and tendencies are most successfully synthesized on the near-12 minute “Booom! (Money).” The song opens with guitars, drums and a shitload of electronic pops and clicks to simulate what sounds like cash registers, Mehlan’s voice slightly above the fracas, until the song dissolves into a cacophony of noise that lasts for damn near seven minutes. Through either sheer coincidence or intent, the song (like much of the album) implies a long list of impeccable influences: Velvet Underground, Dub Housing-era Pere Ubu, and especially the Stooges (in this case, “L.A. Blues”).

Along with plenty of references to the almighty baksheesh, the lyrics reflect the restlessness and dissatisfaction implied in the song’s frequently shifting instrumental textures. “Stepper a.k.a. Work” includes enough angst and pessimism to make every aging flannel-clad grunge obsessive proud. “What I thought I wanted was a little bit of hope,” Mehlan deadpans, concluding with the cheery statement that “I’m gonna get paid enough to survive / So that I quit complaining for once in my life.

Other songs imply that coping with daily life requires a fair amount of self-delusion; “There is a simple way to get through the day / If you like magic tricks,” Mehlan advises in the choir-like chant of “Unrelentinglessness.” The album’s outlook is bleak; “The Things” references “dead men stuck to the river’s floor,” while the album’s closing track, with its snarled and distorted repeated warning of “it’ll rain“, sounds like an unavoidable statement of impending doom. “Get your suntan while you still can,” Mehlan warns.

If you’re over a certain age and your last name isn’t Waits, this album might seem best suited for use in driving brutal dictators out of hiding. Certainly it’s a loud and intense album whose many instrumental shifts border on being sadistic. It’s disorienting and unsettling, and will likely cause a sustaining ringing in your ears. And that’s a good thing.

by Eric Whelchel

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