Skeleton is actually Abe Vigoda’s second LP, but it might as well count as their first. Sky Route/Star Roof was released back in 2005, when L.A. was still mostly off the underground’s map, as it had been throughout most of the ’90s, when looking into the city’s factional underground scene apparently didn’t occur to many people. If it had, though, the New Yorker’s 2007 profile of The Smell and its primary ambassadors, No Age (Abe Vigoda, HEALTH, and Mika Miko also have a first-degree relation to the downtown venue) wouldn’t have been as surprising as it was. Far from the L.A. punk revivalists they’re portrayed as being, the Abe Babes & Co. make music that’s on a continuum with a California punk history that extends beyond the SST roster. The era conspicuously absent from most accounts of the improbably fertile scene – the mid-90s, when post-hardcore acts on labels like Three.One.G and Gravity copped moves from post-punk and stumbled upon their own smudged form of emo – is an equally important, if trickier, reference as Black Flag, and it’s one that bubbles close enough to the surface throughout Skeleton to threaten a break with the scene's Positive Mental Attitude angle.
For most of its 30-minute length, Skeleton sticks with a tempo that’s a little too fast to headbang with, but slow enough to allow plenty of sideway details to emerge. The band has regrettably jettisoned the songwriting style of “All Night And Day,” which hitched one of their strongest vocal hooks to a languid dub. Here, they opt to banish experiments with ambience and space to the simultaneously shrill and soothing “Visi Rings,” and often insist on speed and economy to the exclusion of melody. "Visi Rings" is the first in a run of three remarkable songs (the others are "Endless Sleeper" and the title track) that, while not the best songs offered (that would be "Lantern Lights" and "Cranes"), stand out because they linger over songwriting, mood, and space.
The asymmetrical patterns Juan and Mike’s guitars work out – they often sound less like riffs than steel drums – and Dave and Reggie’s prickly-but-insistent rhythms, along with Mike’s mostly-inaudible lyrics, characterize the bulk of Skeleton, but the band bears comparison with your Antioch Arrows and your Mohinders primarily for their aims. Abe Vigoda is a tighter band than the one that appeared on the "Animal Ghosts" EP last year, and the assured, and slightly rushed version of the song that appears on this album (a strange mix of confidence and nerves that doesn't best its predecessor) is a metric of the band's ambition. Abe Vigoda’s idea of being a better band consists, for the moment, of playing harder and louder and getting more difficult to discern, having less mercy and expelling sentimentality while leaving space for longing.
The band's “tropical punk” moniker does its job when applied to "Endless Sleeper": the term becomes a vaguely descriptive, self-cloaking gesture that allows the track's exhaustion – woozily dissonant guitars trail and digress – to give the impression of late-night candor even as lines like “It doesn’t mean anything / Take it off of me” fail to give the listener any real traction. "Skeleton," on the other hand, begins as any other track on the album would, but unexpectedly careens into a time-dilating chorus of “Don’t break me out.” But like their peers, Abe Vigoda don’t dwell on the pop bits of their songs any more than the noise, or the ambient-noise guitar loops that they allow to extend past the edges of the actual songs (giving the impression that they recorded over an old Seefeel master tape). Skeleton ends before you’ve fully caught up with it, and in that sense it's doing what it set out to do. This is what jamming econo means to kids whose horizon isn't classic rock and hardcore, but grunge and post-hardcore. It sounds really good.