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Eat Skull - Sick to Death

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Artist: Eat Skull

Album: Sick to Death

Label: Siltbreeze

Review date: May. 27, 2008


Eat Skull - "Punk Trips" (Sick to Death)


“Those who forget history are doomed to repeat history,” said Mrs. Garber, my 10th grade history teacher, back in the pivotal school year of 1991-92, a great time to be a teenager if you cared about rock music. But with a national No Child Left Behind mentality in place, we’re seeing an indie rock culture rolling back over on itself, with no recourse. Members of the press, either too young (NME/Vice bebs) to have seen it the first time, or too out of touch (yo Skeletor, whassup) when it was going down, are trying to get whatever traction they can out of a scene that has the most unfortunate name I could think of. And of course, it would have to have a name, wouldn’t it.

Just as well – indie rock as a term is dead to rights, handed over to the yup pups with their sad computers and their lifehacks, its practitioners the same sorts who would have been in the Greek system and pounding the tar out of us freaks years back. They have emos for that now, it seems, an affront to heteronormative society and the ugly by-product of overmedication. But I suppose we’re not here to talk about that, but why, throughout all of this press, nobody can seem to recall a band called Pavement, in particular the handful of records they cut before Slanted and Enchanted, or any of the other outfits in the field back then (1st gen Royal Trux, Wingtip Sloat, Firefly Wreck, Refrigerator, Mantis, Trash, Flying Saucer Attack, oh and GUIDED BY VOICES), and recognize that what’s happening now already happened then; its evidence lying dormant all over record stores, racking up play money on eBay, and collecting digital dust in file-sharing repositories. It is merely coincidence that Tom Lax, who helped to guide so much of this sentiment with his Siltbreeze label back in the ’90s (and continues to spread the word with his blog, always a solid read), would also help to spearhead this current comeback. Tom’s not getting rich off of this in any sense – leave that to the fans, and a curious overseas market placed away from the action, but given enough of an increase in spending power to have ushered in the era of the $50 7” single – rather, he’s inadvertently helped to give legitimacy to a new generation unconcerned with the past, yet content to walk directly in its footprints.

Eat Skull presents a more curious case than most. To see them in person, it’s clear that they’ve been around the block a bit longer than the college grads of Times New Viking or the high schoolers in TV Ghost. Frontman Rob Enbom and guitarist Rod Meyer were, and remain, members of the Hospitals, who’ve been lobbing noise bombs all up and down the West Coast for years, and bassist Scott Simmons is responsible enough to run Exiled Records in Portland, Oregon, where the band resides with drummer Beren, her surname unavailable at press time. Their 2007 debut, a self-released single, swooped under the radar of most before it was too late; its three songs provided the template for Sick to Death (nervy, jangly pop, encrusted in the filth of dozens of tapes that had recorded before it, and the “Sister Ray”-esque extension of such endeavors). Its follow-up, the Dead Families EP, was sold out before it was even released, causing end-of-the-world-this-week consternation for hundreds of individuals trying to divine vinyl into copies of GTA IV. Some listened to it, too, and found Eat Skull’s primary strength enclosed: the anthem.

Sick to Death has got a handful of its own anthems, too. Good ones. Poppy ones. Its 14 tracks hustle by in spurts of creative freedom, fueled by alcohol and a lack of money, and of course, drenched in gouts of lo-fi spuzz. Even to the trained ear, it’d be hard to separate some of its selections from anything on a Times New Viking or Psychedelic Horseshit release, but that’s sort of the point; Enbom made an entire album with TNV’s Beth Murphy, under the name Hole Class, but that fact notwithstanding, this is a sound that belongs to everyone and no one, all at once. There’s great freedom in being wise enough to know that you’re not reinventing the wheel if you can get a roomful of kids to bang their heads in unison, or by making people laugh through gross characterizations of the cliques around them, but what follows that?

If ever there were a band to lead the youth out of the funk its in, why not this one, one that damns it at every turn? They certainly carry the weaponry well enough, and know how to fire it: “Punk Trips” blisters its two chords red-raw into singalong damnation (“You gotta let ‘em fizzle, you gotta let ‘em burn out … There’s no imagination!”) and the bouncy strum of “Cartoon Beginning” only supports this logic (“This is the worst / That I have ever seen”). Bad advice is doled out like tainted candy on Halloween in “I Licked the Spider” (“I licked its hourglass ass … It’s like laughing gas!”). Eardrums are scraped off the plectrum in “Puker Corpse,” featuring a vocal cameo from Satan himself, but “Ghost List” turns on the waterworks, rinsing off the dried blood of early Grifters’ material (“I’m eighty-sixed for being so accomplished”). They know their time has already come, and they’re still here. Life just keeps going, an unkind passing of time in which we, as participants, always lose.

It’s hard to tell, with the bile running from Enbom’s lips, if these songs make him feel better. But perhaps there are no answers to this one. You tell people over and over about what’s happening, and, if you’re lucky, can count on one in every 100 to fully understand you, while the rest aren’t even waiting for you to finish before they start talking themselves. Then you hear your ideas get passed off onto someone else’s shoulders, and their lack of guile sweeps your moment away. You’re left alone, sweeping up the spotlight and wondering who’s going to take care of things when you’re gone. The teenage remnants that grace the album’s artwork speak to this; looking like a Trapper Keeper defaced with Mr. Spock pulling tubes and Freddy Krueger tearing up a sleeping child, its title voicing Heather McNamara’s would-be last words, spells out the end to those of us who saw its previous birth, and the ugly bastard it grew into.

By Doug Mosurock

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