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Blackout Beach

Skin of Evil

Rating: 4.0

Label: Soft Abuse

Are you looking for that definitive party album, an album that will inevitably crawl its way to your CD player every Friday or Saturday night for a romping spin, an album ensured to boot asses off their seats and on to the dance floor? Then Blackout Beach’s sophomore effort surely isn’t for you. Skin of Evil, like its predecessor, Light Flows From the Putrid Dawn, floats in a gloomy, surreal world untouched by even the most creative minds in rock. It’s an extreme expression of innovation, proving there will always be new shades of music under the right thinking.

Carey Mercer’s approach to music has always been slightly off the track. The quirky, psychedelic pop of his Canadian band, Frog Eyes, is a testament to this eccentricity. When Mercer decided to do a solo project under the name Blackout Beach, it’s as if he extracted all of the idiosyncrasies from Frog Eyes and sculpted them into a concentrated oddity. With this act, Mercer left behind any remnants of traditional pop music, as was admirably evident on Putrid Dawn. There is a Vincent-Gallo-like approach to Blackout Beach’s songwriting; most of the time, Mercer sounds like he’s merely noodling around on different instruments, seeing what works and what doesn’t, what kind of aural textures and effects he can create and what kind of odd melodies he can coax. Amazingly enough, this noodling produces concrete compositions.

Shrouded within the skipping, echoing vocals and guitar licks, overlapping lyrics, swirling ambiance, and the sparse but spastic percussion outbursts, is a poetic narrative about a woman named “Donna.” Whether she is Mercer’s personal subject of mourning or merely just a characterized slice of fiction is up to the lyric purists’ debate. But it’s undeniable that there lies a sense of sorrow for Donna, and Mercer himself appears to harness some animosity for one recurring character, William. On “The Whistle” he sings:”William: her boyfriend feeling her up so tacky so she groans /So I laugh; an old friend/ But fucking William: I shall crack his neck and perform one million castrations with his bones.” While William is not the only of Donna’s lovers mentioned, there is an emphasis on him. Mercer’s voice, which bears a sharp similarity to Edwyn Collins, breathes this misery and frustration with blunt conviction.

One of the more remarkable aspects of Skin of Evil is its complete disregard for song structure. There are no clearly definable verses or chorus to any of the songs. Free form bridges and codas abruptly cut in without any warning or reason. In the musical world of Carey Mercer anything can happen, which is what makes his craft so fresh. While longer compositions such as “Biloxi, In a Grove, Cleans Out His Eyes” and the final sendoff, “Astoria, Menthol Lite, Hilltop. Wave of Evil 1982” can be considered highlights, they don’t stray from Skin of Evil’s overlying sound. Skin of Evil is a bit outlandish and inaccessible at times, but if it communicates only one thing to his listeners, it’s that Mercer’s creative well is still overflowing.

by Jory Spadea

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