Skeletons Life and the Afterbirth

[Shinkoyo; 2004]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: folktronica, lo-fi indie pop, idm, psychedelic
Others: Microphones, John Frusciante, Hood

Skeletons' Life and the Afterbirth fits perhaps most neatly into the psychedelic rock genre. Clearly Matt Mehlan, who is Skeletons, creates music with a sensibility that is deeply rooted in the experimental psychedelic scene of the 1960s and early 1970s. Drug-influenced, arcane, and self-indulgent, this is a record that needs to be digested slowly, although it may not benefit from being overanalyzed.

The album's packaging, along with the song titles [see below], seems designed to deliberately confuse and mislead. As it was this writer's first exposure to Skeletons' music, I expected alt-country or lo-fi acoustic folk after gazing upon the CD cover. The music, of course, is neither. Most of the tracks consist of electric guitar manipulated by a variety of effects, keyboards, and simple, early-'80s drum machine beats. Additionally, Life and the Afterbirth features lyrics that sport a childlike stream-of-consciousness aspect. They're sung, mic'd, and treated in such a way that they seem to self-consciously conjure up comparisons to '60s musicians-cum-drug casualties. The record proves more successful, however, when focusing on the music and melody, rather than the vocals and lyrics ("Get up to the sky/ get down in the ground/ get back in your mother's stomach"); although, to be fair, the fourth track, "This Building's on Fire," has a perversely catchy melody and vocals that you can't get out of your head.

The record periodically lapses into a number of odd psychedelic freakouts, such as those prominently displayed on the second track, "Try Not to Aim Your Airplane at Me." This piece initially features alternate-tuned Sonic Youth-esque guitars, and then becomes a distorted wall of sound replete with psychedelic guitar noodling, until finally digressing into a simple, IDM-influenced ambient piece. Interestingly, some tracks, such as "Crash," make no effort at all to maintain a traditional song structure; but rather, they are simply composed of glitchy static and white noise -- which is fine, although at 8 ½ minutes, it begins to try one's patience.

Skeletons are evidently one of those idiosyncratic artists for whom one must develop a taste to appreciate. Upon listening to the odd, free-associative lyrics, it's difficult to determine whether they are indeed profound, trying to sound profound, or just stupid. It's probably safer to bet on the former rather than the latter, since a great deal of craft obviously went into the making of this record. Although, in the world of indie rock, obscurity is often confused with profundity.

1. the telephone rings.
2. try not to aim your airplane at me.
3. my friend drowned in his own vomit.
4. this building's on fire.
5. this is the part of the story where everyone is having sex.
6. let's get out of here or i better get going or i hope i can.
7. a male angel means business.
8. crash.
9. death and the afterlife.