Sick to Death
By Alan Baban | 29 July 2008
I kidded a few weeks back that No Age—y’know, the people’s champion—turned up dead-on-arrival with their Nouns LP, which was cute. Nouns isn’t a bad record by any means and it’s not as if the band can’t kick it, but on that particular record that “idea” of kicking it and all the other hyperstylised indie 2.0 bullcrap just got in the way of what should’ve been a ballsome summer blast. Any lacunae of fun the thing held has been very tidily exploded by Siltbreeze’s backlog of great records, and a new wave of acts that actually, sometimes, know how to do this shit right. Eat Skull is one of those bands. Their key-organ and guitar freakouts are easily some of the best of recent years—as their previous, very sold-out singles would suggest.
Sick to Death is split into two sides: one very Sick and the other…you get what I’m saying. Like you may have already guessed, it follows in that new, semi-serious tradition of being recorded on-the-quick and pitted up into the brash jittery trebles. Tape hiss closes tracks, count-ins are vaguely muffled, guitars sound metallic; everything comes off like it has a pulse.
Which isn’t to say that it’s a mess. The mix manages to cram in, and make game of every instrument, but that its trash-can aesthetic may just consign it into the bargain pile before people discover what kind of wonderful this record is. You might even call it a slow-burner. See, this band isn’t to be pegged with more convivial, fucked-up festive scene luminaries like Times New Viking, or the hundred-and-one other bands acting on this new lo-fi bit. Eat Skull (who are, like, a decade older than everyone else) instead posit their sound in an environment that’s alternately grim, sad, and boring—a kind of real post-teenage wasteland where ambition’s turned sour and pointlessness breeds discontent. The thought of this as their debut probably makes them laugh (and drink, and cry).
More quickly than the band itself (who, you get the feeling, live this stuff), you get to know these songs: the true-to-life recording, its bum characters and wasted notes, the suffocating sense of ennui that cuts deep into their dynamic, allowing them to play at being tentative (“Cartoon Beginning”), poised (“Dog Religion”) or even bit of both (the GBV-toting, statuesque “New Confinement”). Theirs is a small island of post-rock revisionism—jangle-pop Satan stomps, dedicated stoner bop, post-pop, that sort of thing. There’s also some straight-up indie rock nostalgia which slices through now and again like a weird axis of evil. “Waiting For The Hesitation”—one of this year’s best songs—is a cool update of Pavement’s “Here,” fixing its easy melody in the box-space of reverb-clang to make the song suitably lived-out. “Between these doors / there is a distance” is the big insight we get from de facto vocalist Rob Enbom. Music probably got them into this mess in the first place.
This band has ample handfuls of catchy songs, but there’s a few clunkers here, too. I don’t find “Stress Crazy” funny, and “Beach Brains” is a bit much, taking its cues from hardcore and “Sister Ray” for two will-this-shit-ever-end minutes. But, I mean, come on dudes: please play more into my extremely shallow and limited view of what brash punk-pop songs should sound like, because when you do that it’s nary short of the best that hypernoisy, brash punk-pop has to offer. “Survivable Spaces” has a great bounce and strut to its psychopathic breathing, and “Punk Trips,” with its pulverising breakdown, is a case in point. This band has written some amazing, high-spirited songs: sing-a-longs basically, but more on the scale of scatting than anything particularly terrace chant-like. It’s when Eat Skull are at their most unreasonably poppy that their stoneman grooves and cross-genre (“Ghost List” crabs off early Cure) homogenisation starts to get exciting. A few more songs in that vein would have been nice, but, for now, Sick to Death is a solid opening effort.