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Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys - Git

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Artist: Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys

Album: Git

Label: Ghostly International

Review date: Jul. 11, 2005

The moniker is either a physical descriptor, an inclusive gesture aimed at a potential audience, a Henry Darger reference, or an attempt to place Skeletons in some hermaphroditic pop lineage somewhere between Brian Eno and Michael Jackson. Git is a repository for such references and gestures, a factory that takes grisly detritus and turns it into exquisitely shaped meat on a stick, at once historically grounded (a nod to the Corn Dog) and knowingly alienated (both the meat and the men), making for a jubilant ambivalence. Call it pop dentata.

Skeletons began as the brainchild of Matt Mehlan and his computer. Since the release of Life and the Afterbirth in 2003, Mehlan has accumulated a group of more and more regular collaborators who now constitute the Girl-Faced Boys. (Life and the Afterbirth and the more recent I’m On Top of the World were both released on Shinkoyo, the band’s in-house record label and loosely functioning collective.) It’s the full band that merits the ‘with teeth’ qualifier, pushing Skeletons’ sound, replete with 808-inspired drum tracks and restrained synth tones, a bit closer to the precipice of spasmodic improvisation, matching Mehlan’s technical and lyrical acumen with a bit of collective ebullience—it shows up in the billowy, clattering sing-a-long at the end of “There’s a Fly in Your Soup and I Put It There” and in the clamor of “You’da Been Better Off If,” which adroitly turns competing percussive detritus into a decomposing lullaby, complete with vocal harmonies.

Aside from these occasional intrusions and the extended ambient outro, Git is sanitary to a fault, as if recorded at the Center for Disease Control. The effect, coupled with a profusion of innocuously mesmerizing hooks, is disquieting, though not repulsive. If the best pop music forges an empathetic bond between the performer and listener, the most subversive pop music makes this bond as unsettling as it is strong.

On the title track, a slightly disjointed bass and keyboard figure worthy of Rick James is joined by Mehlan’s pleasurably vacuous singing; the song only begins in earnest at the end of the first chorus, cued by a synth riff right out of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The song is strange because it is so familiar, a composite whose pieces are all slightly out of place.

Git ascribes a sort of totemic value to pop music itself; thankfully, the icons are chopped to pieces and recombined rather than worshipped—Bowie, the Talking Heads, Stevie Wonder, Roxy Music and others lurk beneath these songs but never dominate them. Instead, Git is a wide-ranging collage of pop detritus that shows much while revealing little, a perfect package with a picture of itself inside.

Git reduces the pop song to its base element, pleasure, but without harping on authenticity. Pretty words abound, as do finely wrought rhythms, captivating choruses and harmonies, which all indicate we are listening to good pop music and liking it. And, with Skeletons, this is all true, though such an observation says more about the record’s effect than its quality. Git is a vision of strangely affected pop, the music of the celestial spheres captured and shrunken to fit the archetypal tropes. Far from asserting their position as protagonists in the continual effort to undermine the conventions of whichever music culture is currently conventional, the members of Skeletons seem comfortable crashing the party and spiking the punch with some choice ayahuasca.

By Alexander Provan

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