Eat Skull Sick to Death

[Siltbreeze; 2008]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: lo-fi, punk, psychobilly
Others: Sic Alps, Electric Eels, Guided By Voices, Sic Alps, Home Blitz, Meth Teeth, Godz, Pink Reason, Psychedelic Horseshit and every other band ever

The impending sense of annihilation that pervades this particularly nebulous point in history is perhaps what motivates a lot of musicians to strip off all the built-up pretense and instead revert to more base emotional gratification. These musicians opt for anthemic and degraded punk rock in all its adolescent, snot-flinging glory. With the paradigm shift that was the homemade tape and CD-R movement, bands have become free to record and release whatever they want to, without the hassle of cigar-smoking record execs demanding such atrocities as clean production and tuned guitars.

It’s in this musically rebellious, anti-corporate climate that bands can create walls of shredding noise or spit out cathartically messy pop songs with a dismissive attitude so appropriate in these end times. While groups like Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit have shown that you can be both noisy and joyous and others like Pink Reason still go for head-buzzing downer vibes, labels like Siltbreeze (who once released records from noise legends Harry Pussy) has showcased that once cloaked under this veil of recording detritus, a new freedom sets in, where one can take on any form they wish underneath that cloak.

Eat Skull are quite aware of this. Like TNV and Psych HS, Eat Skull revel in the more upbeat spectrums of this thriving noise-pop community and have really nailed it with the aptly titled Sick to Death, their first full-length for Siltbreeze (a couple of limited-run singles preceded the album and are now subjects of eBay-lore). A spin of this colossus record on the turntable draws on a lifetime of listening, as if your record collection melted into one hardened amalgam of wax and you dropped the stylus on that amorphous hunk. Opener “Beach Brains,” with its Screamers-styled synth-punk primal aggression, is as demented as it is visceral, a gold nugget pulled from the nostrils of post-punk aggression. Elsewhere, “Cartoon Beginning” is a Television Personalities-meets-Collins Kids hillbilly boogie that will burn the barn down, while the aggressive motorik beat of “Alarms” bursts into a hissing late-’60s sunshine anthem.

Tracks like “Dog Religion” burn with the spirit of ur-punk rebellion relevant to mid-’70s Cleveland bands like Rocket from the Tombs. Also bearing that nihilistic spirit, “Stress Crazy” is as pissed off an homage to modern work and life as the Electric Eels' “Agitated,” Black Flag’s “I’ve Had It,” and The Fall’s “Couldn’t Get Ahead” -- all rolled into one. In fact, the influence of Mark E. Smith is present elsewhere as well; “Puker Corpse” takes the rockabilly swagger that Smith and co. so excellently perverted on early albums like Live at the Witch Trials, before a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins impersonator interrupts the song in a weirdly demonic Halloween shtick phone-call-from-hell routine.

Of course, it’s not all punk vitriol; “Waiting for the Hesitation” takes the overblown downer riffs of Sic Alps or Pink Reason and really digs into the grooves of joyous drudgery while spinning a Godot-reminiscent yarn of waiting for more waiting. The line "No one answers their calls/ They just wander the halls" laments a zombie population that has seemingly already checked out of this world. Similarly, Gen X-ey “I Licked the Spider” highlights the benefits of pointless rebellion, and its triumphant chorus of "I licked the spider/ And got away with it" makes me wish John Peel were still around to hear it.

The whole thing is wrapped up in a sleeve chock full of hand-drawn high-school-notebook-type art brut doodles that are as perfect a match to the music as one could hope for. Both showcase the joys of apathy and regressive nihilism and are as pricelessly kitschy as the kazoo solo that ends “Shredders on Fry” or the cover’s image of Dr. Spock smoking a bong. So, why not shut the shades, grab a brew and a sack, throw on some old Next Generation episodes, and ring in the apocalypse with Eat Skull.

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