Music Reviews

Eat Skull III

(Woodsist) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Artists typically don the “lo-fi” badge for one of two reasons: it’s the cheapest and easiest way to record your scrappy garage band in their most natural state, or it’s an aesthetical choice, where the fuzz and tape hiss becomes an instrument in itself to sculpt the artist’s wildest musical fantasies. The former is often more simplified and song-oriented than the more experimental latter, but for a long time, most of the mediums’ pioneering artists managed to exist as both at the same time. Bands like Guided By Voices, The Magnetic Fields, and Sebadoh used magnetic tape like an easel to scribble the bizarre crayon doodles of their imagination, but each artist was still a full functioning band when need be (ok, maybe less so for the Magnetic Fields) that could break out songs with deeply infectious hooks at a moment’s notice.

Eat Skull doesn’t go out of their way to sound like any of these artists, but their approach to whacked out garage rock certainly takes a cue from their methodology. The band's first two records,  2008’s Sick To Death and 2009’s Wild And Inside, were jagged tailspins of lo-fi, hook-laden garage rock that never feared to break into more adventurous territory every now and then. Still, there was very little to distinguish the group from contemporaries like Times New Viking and Male Bonding. III, the group’s latest release and first for Woodsist, is their way of distancing themselves from this comparison, incorporating dreamier, more experimental elements into their sound and lightening their once savage blow. And, for the most part, this works quite well to their advantage.

The first thing that fans of the group are likely to notice is the unquestionable softening of their sound, as this is easily the least raucous record Eat Skull has made by far. Where past albums bum-rushed listeners with bone-splitting aggression, III’s ten tracks prefer to wander along slowly in a hazy, whitewashed state.  The ambient, distant mystique of Twin Sikk Moons and slow-motion synths of Stupid Moon give the impression that they’re toying with dream pop, but the songs found on III are dreamy in a similar sense to how GBV’s classic, Bee Thousand, sounds as if it exists as a daydream. Eat Skull frequently prove themselves as a fully competent band, as songs like Space Academy, Dead Horses, and the ominous, moonlit They Burned You (which could almost pass for a leftover Bee Thousand cut) are shrouded in a lo-fi fog that makes each track feel more like a faded memory, but the bands' songwriting chops, personality, and chemistry are undeniably in full view, foregoing the whole “lo-fi as an excuse to be mysterious” thing.

However, there is one significant oddity on the album that did strike me as a bit unnecessary. Judging by the albums' cover and first single, How Do I Know When to Say Goodnite?, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to think that Eat Skull had transformed into a quirky bedroom art-pop project over the last few years. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case, but this unfortunately makes the lead singles' placement in the album something of a mystery. With its sputtering drum beats, funky bass line, and grotesque, faded moans, the track feels like a giant, anthropomorphic question mark shuffling into the middle of a basement club to breakdance and Charlie-horse all over the place before abruptly leaving. The song itself is as infectious as can be, and it will undoubtedly lodge itself into your head after one or two listens. But despite its shimmering synth washes and catchy melodies, it struggles to find a comfortable spot amongst the rest of III’s tracks, with not enough similarly out of place moments to justify its place on the album. Ultimately, the track would have been much better off as a standalone single than an early album surprise.

Aesthetically lo-fi music has gone through a bit of a personality divide in the past decade, and at this point, the home is split in two. Its' grungy, aggressive half has firmly taken root in the grimy basement, while its' artsy, sophisticated half prefers the seclusion of a locked bedroom. Many of today’s outspoken indie artists are more than satisfied with this divide, and you could even argue that these sides are doing just fine on their own side of the house. But Eat Skull’s impressive new album is a healthy reminder of what can happen when these two opposing halves converge into one beautiful whole.