As a co-founding member of Shinkoyo records, Matt Mehlan retains the label’s core ideals of collaboration, experimentation, and unpredictability with his Skeletons project. Beginning in Oberlin, Ohio as a solo act with help from an eclectic cast of collaborators (classically-trained trombonists, punk rock drummers, a junkyard boy’s choir), Skeletons has now settled comfortably into its adult body, having established the full-time band The Girl-Faced Boys (Seve, Johnny, Jason, and Carson) and forming an alliance with Ghostly. In addition to appearances at the 2004 CMJ and 2005 SxSW festivals, the group has lent live support to TV On The Radio, The Unicorns, VHS Or Beta, Animal Collective, Holger Czukay (of Can), Jackie O’ Motherfucker, and Twig Harper. A major US tour is planned for summer following the release of the LP Git.

“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 label’s 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 Cake’s Sam Prekop is a good way to get dates, well, let’s 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 Prekop’s tendency to let the instrumental parts of his songs guide his vocals, rather than the other way around. Like the Sea and Cake’s songs, Skeletons’ pieces usually seem to stroll in no particular direction, with instruments often loosely following a drum groove; Life and the Afterbirth isn’t 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 I’m 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 it’s amazing that they were all done by the same person. He’s 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: “Get up to the sky, get down in the ground/Get back in your mother’s stomach.” Mehlan’s lyrics contain plenty of perverse ruminations that make the bizarre observations that surround them seem even stranger: “My 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/Let’s fight about who wants to die more.” 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 Mehlan’s low-key style. That aside, Life works on many different levels: Mehlan’s 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.

Edited by biochip on 5 Mar 2007, 11:48

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