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Skullflower - Exquisite Fucking Boredom

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Artist: Skullflower

Album: Exquisite Fucking Boredom

Label: Tumult

Review date: Jan. 9, 2004

Skullflower haven't released a record since 1996, and the name has been greatly missed, though Matthew Bower has kept busy with Sunroof! and other projects. Skullflower's last album was a departure from the previous series of incredibly heavy, slow, sludgy drone-rock records, but now Exquisite Fucking Boredom sees Bower digging out the fuzz pedals again, and it's good to have them back.

First, a confession: I own everything Skullflower has ever released, so as you might guess, I like this record quite a bit. Slow, stomping, uber-heavy, syrupy waves of guitar are pretty much my thing so long as they come with a groove, and Skullflower's always had that.

Exquisite Fucking Boredom is comprised of a four-part suite, with two other pieces. The first three parts of the suite, "Celestial Highway," lead off the album; the fourth concludes it. In-between, the two other shorter nine-minute pieces fill in the gap.

"Celestial Highway I" introduces the medium-speed riff which will keep you company for quite a while – a simple bass-drum thud with an equally-simple guitar part. Other waves of guitar and (I think) keyboards wind their way in and out, creating a swampy, mind-melting sonic soup. Repetition is the name of the game here, hypnotic bludgeoning; this first part is over 12 minutes long, with the same central riff continuing the entire time. Motion lies amongst the peripheral layers, a constantly-circling collection of guitars and other sounds.

"Celestial Highway II" starts with the same riff, but with birdcalls! And a different, tremolo-drenched guitar drone alongside. The riff is buried much deeper in the mix, letting the other sounds take center stage. The main component here is the warbling tremolo guitar texture, oddly-timed so that its rhythm is just slightly off from the deeper riff, and they shift in and out of phase with each other. The end result is quieter, yet somewhat deeper than the previous track, and perhaps even more hypnotic over its nearly 14-minute running time.

"Celestial Highway III" fades in with the central riff immediately heavier than the preceding track, but a keyboard drone eventually usurps the focus. Ever so slowly, the drone takes on a haunting sort of feel as the riff moves down in the mix until, halfway through, it's almost gone, leaving just the drone, which floats onward until the end.

The two midpoint songs, not part of the "Celestial Highway" suite, are "Saturn" and "Return to Forever" (making me wonder whether that's a sly reference to the old band of the same name). "Saturn" moves forward on murky drums, a synth drone, and slow-building waves of wah-saturated guitar. "Return to Forever" starts slowly and very dark, with a quietly mechanical drum rhythm buried beneath layers of fuzz and guitar. Throughout its length, the song meanders on its dank waves of fuzz and endless wanky lead playing – the honestly cheesy drum machine clip-clop rhythm and aimless playing here unfortunately do not work well.

"Celestial Highway IV" is last up, and surprisingly it doesn't begin with the same riff as the previous parts, though the birdsong from "II" is back, amidst floating clouds of drone. The song drifts through its 12 minutes in a fog, drowned by layers of slow-moving synth textures, birdcalls, and what could be the original "Celestial Highway" riff buried way, way down in the mix – it's hard to tell, but it feels as though it's there, like a heartbeat.

I find that I prefer the first half of Exquisite Fucking Boredom, with the emphasis on vast fields of guitar fuzz and riffage, over the latter half, which loses focus and ends up drifting on droning tides. But I wouldn't be surprised if many people feel exactly the opposite. More importantly, though, I find myself wondering why "Saturn" and "Return to Forever" were included – they feel like a detour that doesn't lead anywhere, while if the album had been restricted to just the "Celestial Highway" tracks, there would have been a consistent development from beginning to end as the original riff is broken down, buried, and finally completely gone. The other two tracks serve as a distraction (and "Return to Forever" really doesn't hold up anyway).

Nonetheless, despite this nitpicking I'm very happy to have a new Skullflower album in my collection, and it will get plenty of play alongside classics like Xaman and IIIrd Gatekeeper. Good to have you back.

By Mason Jones

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