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Skeletons - Life and the Afterbirth

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Artist: Skeletons

Album: Life and the Afterbirth

Label: Shinkoyo

Review date: Jan. 21, 2004


Apparently, more interesting artists have lived in Oberlin, Ohio than the tiny city has streets. Life and the Afterbirth is the best of the Oberlin-based Shinkoyo labelís first three intriguing releases.

Skeletons is one man, Matt Mehlan, an Oberlin Conservatory student who has a lazy voice, an ear for arranging and a knack for penning dark, subversive lyrics. First, about that lazy, breathy voice: if impersonating the Sea and Cakeís Sam Prekop is a good way to get dates, well, letís just say that Mehlan is having a very nice senior year. Like Prekop, Mehlan strains to hit unreachable high notes, but never so much that he sounds anything but laissez-faire. He also shares Prekopís tendency to let the instrumental parts of his songs guide his vocals, rather than the other way around. Like the Sea and Cakeís songs, Skeletons' pieces usually seem to stroll in no particular direction, with instruments often loosely following a drum groove; Life and the Afterbirth isnít for listeners who hate when music isn't crisp and compact.

And there, finally, is where the Prekop/Sea and Cake similarities end, and where Skeletons really starts to get interesting. Life and the Afterbirth is far more lush than any Prekop project Iím aware of. Mehlan employs My Bloody Valentine-style distortion, noise, fusion-inspired Fender Rhodes doodlings, IDM-like textures and washes of ambient sound, all with such skill that itís amazing that they were all done by the same person. Heís also ready with more traditional instruments, including some fine (uncredited) string and horn parts. The self-titled final track even ends with a handclap-accompanied campfire singalong.

Is it a singalong about love, or brotherhood, or campfires? No way: ďGet up to the sky, get down in the ground / Get back in your motherís stomach.Ē Mehlanís lyrics contain plenty of perverse ruminations that make the bizarre observations that surround them seem even stranger: ďMy friend, he drowned in his own vomit / It was Bulls versus Celtics / This is the part of the story where your first pet dies / It was Jordan versus Bird / Pass out the boxing gloves / Take all your clothes off / Letís fight about who wants to die more.Ē Lyrics like these make the apparent placidity of much of the music on the album seem curious and subversive.

Life and the Afterbirth would benefit from more direct pop hooks, and Skeletons could surely include some without interrupting Mehlanís low-key style. That aside, Life works on many different levels: Mehlanís odd and vivid lyrics give the album a feeling of mystery that unifies its already-appealing parts. Skeletons and Shinkoyo are an artist and label to watch.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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