Prior to embarking on his Phineas Fogg-like quest to circumnavigate the globe and simultaneously discover Manuel Noriega (turns out, he really was in the Philippines,) Sach O used to contribute to the Passion of the Weiss. I think I speak for Sach when I say that neither of us can co-sign this album cover.
Skeletal Lamping might be the single least-playable dance record ever released. Throw it on at a party and people will duck for cover halfway through the first song, wondering what sort of sick bastard slipped on Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. First song,“Nonpareil of Favor” was meant to end the disc but writer/singer /producer/instrumentalist Kevin Barnes’ friends convinced him to put the alienating drone-heavy track up front. It’s a brilliant idea and serves as the perfect test: if you can get down this with this, you’re in for one hell of a ride. If not, well maybe The Killers or Miley Cyrus are more your speed.
Skeletal Lamping will inevitably be compared to contemporary dance-floor ready indie rock. After all, the band’s switch from candy-sweet Beatles fandom to sexed up dance music helped fuel their meteoric rise and superficially, they fit comfortably with everyone from Franz Ferdinand to the Scissor Sisters. The crucial difference is that while those acts repeat the same stolen clichés ad nauseum over the course of several albums, Kevin Barnes has no patience for your expectations. Genres explored on Skeletal Lamping include funk, disco, noise, electro, pop, psychedelia, quiet storm, Philly-soul, Hip-Hop, acoustic strumming, piano balladry, metal and African tribal trance all of which clash unexpectedly. Suffice to say, someone hasn’t been taking his Ritalin.
The White-album-as-mash-up strategy is both a gift and a curse, showcasing Barnes’ incredible range and removing his greatest strength, those incomparably catchy hooks. The result is an anti-breakthrough album, the last thing conventional logic demands when a band is on the verge of mainstream success. And thank your deity of choice for that because conventional logic has failed music big time, handing the reigns to a generation of artists eager to restrain their ambitions in search of cross-over success. There will be no steak-house commercials derived from this album and if there are, then said steakhouse has huge balls.
Proposed Corporate Slogan ’09: Outback Steakhouses-Nonpareil of Favor
Of course this isn’t musique-concrete or rocket science either. Tracks like “For Our Elegant Cast”, “Gallery Piece” and first single “ID Engager” are all built on accessible rhythms and syrupy melodies. But even when the music’s at its simplest, the lyrics go left: everyone likes a catchy hook but are you ready to have the words “we can do it softcore if you want, but you should know I take it both ways” lodged in your head? It’s not just shock value either, the combined mental breakdown and late sexual awakening Barnes went through during the past few years manifests itself throughout the record which touches on depression, rape, metaphorical infanticide, fandom, bondage and other grotesque sides of life. Even the potential radio hit “An Eluardian instance” contrasts its Elephant 6 horn section and romantic dedications to warnings of “emotional hibernation” and “pimped out hearts”. All in all, hardly the sort of lyrics you’d expect to find on a “proper” indie record by a band originally known for the twee-est of twee pop.
Ultimately I won’t be surprised if this record fails to find its audience at a time when the word “indie” has become a bad cliché signifying poorly dressed, atonal art school drop outs copying their favourite blog-approved 80’s records. Touching far too many sensitive spots far too explicitly for the trend-watching majority to feel comfortable with, it accomplishes its goals with flair and style, never once pausing for those who aren’t ready for it. And as someone not only bored but downright nauseated by the direction independent rock music has taken in the past few years, I couldn’t be happier. Give it a week on repeat: you won’t regret it.