Rejoice, lovers of broken beauty, rejoice!
The Brooklyn quartet Skeletons has released a record so profound in its disjointedness, so dedicated to its skittering grace, you’ll spend the rest of the year trying to foolishly put together the pieces and make sense of it all. It’s called Money but, even if there’s a treatise on the evils of capitalism and free market economies lurking below the surface – yes, yes, we’ll get to that in a minute – the band certainly doesn’t let a lofty message slur the vitriol of the proceedings.
All said, the Tomlab record, all 53 minutes of it, is a manic pastiche of jazz, post rock and tabletop avant-noise, a carefully composed selection of 10 songs disguised as a series of free-form improvisations teetering on the brink of chaos. In short, these men want to convince us they’re mad and we’re the better for it. And they succeed.
There’s Gastr del Sol piano explorations tinged with a chorus of car horns (“Fill My Pockets Full”), Minutemen-style funk freakouts (the intro to “The Things”) and perverse, Bizarro-world reggae exercises (“Stepper a.k.a. Work”). And that’s in the first four songs. The mind-boggingly good “Ripper a.k.a The Pillows,” with its clattering guitars, omnipresent tom rolls and haunting melodies, borrows a sense of impending doom from Sleepytime Gorilla Museum or, better yet, the darker sequences from A Clockwork Orange. The vast majority of the 11-minute “Booom! (Money),” another gem waiting for the right listener’s ears, is delivered in a desperate, frantic crescendo; each note is a last breath on death row.
Elsewhere, the band tones down the multi-faceted approach and settles more comfortably into the well-worn terrain of a genre, however strange. “The Masks,” all reverbed guitars and hypnotic, benzo-sleepy backing vocals, is a 3 a.m. doo-wop outtake filtered through a dream. The toe-tapping funk of “The Things,” which, alongside Ornette Coleman horn-blasts, delivers biting lines like, “Why would I want to know/ these things the parents of your parents’ parents’ parents know/ these things the children of rich men know?” goes as much for the hips as the head.
Which brings us to that message. Skeletons may be condemning the modern machinations of American society but, if that’s the case, they might be doing it more in an aesthetic than literal fashion. The lyrics or, more appropriately, what you can hear of the lyrics, touch on themes of how money drives us (“Working, working, working … and I’m gonna get paid/ enough to survive”) but it doesn’t seem like we’re not treated to any of the anti-consumerist insinuations of Cheer-Accident’s Enduring The American Dream, from which these guys might have cribbed.
So, where does that leave us?
After somber chants (“Unrelentinglessness”) and a brief interlude of percussive asides (the minute-long “Lullaby”), the record ends in fantastic fashion with “Eleven (It’ll Rain).” The piece begins with a resolute acoustic refrain and features an extended, well-shaped tropicalia passage, but it’s the middle section that will fascinate you. There, a softly strummed and dissonant guitar and off-hand lyrics (“You said there’s not a plant that speaks more honestly/ than does, than does the money tree”) buckle under waves of slashed-up white noise and increasingly panicked vocals until the world begins to feel like the onset of a panic attack, all hyper-alert pupils and cold, sweaty hands. It’s a disconcerting moment and designed as such. Skeletons seems to have figured out that what unsettles us can be just as moving as heartfelt platitudes. Consider Money exhibit A.