Sick to Death
On their first album Sick to Death, the Portland, Ore., band Eat Skull mashes together almost everything that's great about trashy art-punk, weirdo fuzz-garage, skuzzy punk-pop, Kiwi garage-rock and off-kilter bedroom-strum. If you adore the weird songs on the Not So Quiet on the Western Front album as well as the Urinals, Raincoats, Gordons, Swell Maps, Homosexuals, Tronics, Desperate Bicycles, Television Personalities, Axemen, Guided by Voices, Chain Gang, those Messthetics comps, and very early Pavement, then meet your new favorite band. You should know, though, that this record sounds like it was mastered by a deaf person. It's all super-distorted and in the red; even the "folksy" numbers are louder than fuck. But once your ears adjust, you realize that it's all killer, no filler.
Lots of acts are mining similar territory these days. To name the most obvious adherents, Sic Alps, Times New Viking, Psychedelic Horseshit, No Age, and Tyvek have each hit upon their own twisted formula for reinventing noisy art-pop. For some reason, all these groups have decided that the best way to record is if all your songs sound like they were taped on a thrift-store answering machine using its built-in condenser mic, in a tiled bathroom, when you're really high. Was there some sort of convention held where it was decided this is how records are supposed to sound now? Does Tom Lax of Siltbreeze have nude photos he'll release of all these band people if they ever set foot inside a proper studio? And who came up with the "shitcore"/ "shitgaze" term for this stuff? That's the silliest thing I've ever heard. I personally wouldn't mind being able to hear more of what's going on in some of these songs-- ironically, you can catch the distinct parts of the music way better when you go see these bands live.
Arguing against this approach is useless, and if I do it any more I'll turn into Andy Rooney. You might as well walk up to your favorite Scandinavian death metal act and asking them to please write paeans to puppy dogs. Some things are just genre conventions, and you deal: in this corner you get songs about burning churches, and in the other you have more distortion and hiss than Slay Tracks. You'll notice I have not yet used the phrase "lo-fi" in this review. That's because I greatly dislike that term. In its 1980s/90s heyday, "lo-fi" referred to such a wide variety of acts-- Daniel Johnston, Dead C, Sebadoh, Supreme Dicks, Grifters-- that it was functionally useless right from the start. At most, "lo-fi" defines an alleged method of capturing sound, similar to the way that "indie rock" refers to a supposed distribution method and nothing else (aside from "rock"). I am reminded of Jean Dubuffet's quote, that "there is no art of the insane any more than there is an art of dyspeptics, or an art of people with knee complaints." Um, but I digress.
Unlike the current army of Anglophiles rocking the basements across the land, this quartet is as in love with American punk as they are the Commonwealth stuff. They shamble into a muffled memory of U.S. hardcore on songs like the Nervous Gender-ific "Beach Brains" or the wonderfully incomprehensible "Stress Crazy". But there's a surprising amount of variation between sounds and songs on Sick to Death; at times it seems like a various artists comp rather than one band. Here they are channeling GBV and the TVPs on the acoustic lament "New Confinement", while "Puker Corpse" is what the Gun Club would have sounded like if they only made soundtracks to haunted houses. The organ-driven shoutalong "Punk Trips" is a glorious pop song that pits multiple melodic hooks against one another, each of them competing for your heart. I dare you to not get it stuck in your head for days.
- Mike McGonigal, July 14, 2008
Upcoming Eat Skull live dates:
07/15 Davis, CA @ Delta of Venus
07/18 Portland, OR @ Slabtwon
07/27 Portland, OR @ Rottue (PDX Pop Now Festival)