w/Sashe, DJs Grant and Heather (Barsuk Records)
Thurs Aug 18, Mars Bar
Do not trust your first impression with Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys' "Git," their debut album for Ghostly International. Even if you're open-minded to a fault, you'll probably have to summon every ounce of patience to get through this one. It's a fairly common experience with unique records: Initially, they leave you floundering and flabbergasted, maybe even repulsed. Sometimes, however, these releases end up becoming among the most prized jewels in your collection. (Remember your first reaction to Talking Heads' Remain in Light and Miles Davis's On the Corner? Now they're in your all-time top 10, hipster.) Such is the case with "Git," which is easily a contender for my album of the year.
Crazy as it seems, "Git" sounds like the future of pop—albeit a distant future when humans have evolved to a higher aesthetic level. Skeletons—Matt Mehlan and as many as nine others from their Oberlin, Ohio–based Shinkoyo collective who appear on "Git"—can forge oddly hummable tunes to which fans of Beach Boys, Neutral Milk Hotel, or TV on the Radio could warm. Yet beneath those swooping, alluring melodies and Mehlan's honey-toned, fallen-angel vocals there swarm strangely modulated keyboards often heard on LPs by minimalist composers like Philip Glass, Cornelius Cardew, and Terry Riley, and the hip-bedeviling rhythms of Arthur Russell. Despite all that nerdy name-dropping, Skeletons really do push out a unique sound that will insinuate itself in your pleasure centers if you give it enough time. The ensemble's prog-gamelan-soul-funk hybrids eventually will make sense, sort of like David Lynch's Mulholland Drive after a third viewing.
What's exciting about "Git" is the way Mehlan and Co. incorporate so many leftfield influences to create what are essentially pop songs. Mehlan, it turns out, is a voracious record collector, which impacts his own compositions.
"I am indeed always trying to find as much music as I can," Mehlan affirms, "always looking for new things, trying to push my own 'taste' buds, find things that talk to me in new special ways. I think it's really important, for me, at least, to be a little overwhelmed by different musics—especially when working on a record. The only way to make something I enjoy is to squeeze all I can into it."
It must have been tricky to find kindred spirits to realize this "new special" music. Skeletons metamorphosed from being Mehlan's solo project—he recorded three albums on his own before "Git"—to a five-piece touring band. He finds it hard to pinpoint what qualities he sought in those he selected to join Skeletons.
"I didn't so much look for or select anyone," Mehlan says. "We started Shinkoyo mostly as a result of the unspoken connection and common mindset. All the guys playing in the band now are people I've been collaborating with in various ways for at least one to five years, so things are heavy, interesting, and easy when it comes to working on a project."
Although he's clearly Skeletons' focal point, Mehlan stresses that the band isn't a dictatorship and the Girl-Faced Boys aren't mere hired hands.
"Everyone's got their own brain and body and puts all of 'em into what they do," Mehlan explains. "It's a trick where you figure out how to leave things open enough to accept the wildest of contributions, but still get the end result to be close to the idea you had in the first place."
For all of Skeletons' heady experimentation, they still exude that great intangible in music known as "soul." When asked for his definition of this quality and whether his group has it, Mehlan speculates, "I think it's something very special, intangible, sex-spiritual and something very hard for white people to pull off (a whole 'nother long essay, no?). My favorite soul songs sometimes have the most clichéd lyrics, but the meaning or emotion is amplified regardless; the sincerity is infallible. I'm working on it; not sure if we've hit it yet, but I hope we do.
"I think every record has been a better realization of the idea than the previous," Mehlan continues. "'Git' has or shows or feels a wider scope. I usually say something like: 'I'm just tryin' to write the best pop song and the wildest wild wildout I can at the same time.'"