Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities | Lucas (Ghostly Int’l.)

cd_skeletonsSummoning a sort of ghostly, late-night vibe, Mehlan arranges these tracks like a witch at her cauldron, stirring and stirring the bubbling brew in hopes of conjuring magickal forces.

 

 

 

 

Back in my college days, there were a bunch of us who always tried to bring weird music to our get-togethers. A couple of friends favored Zappa and Beefheart, one guy seemed partial to whatever prog-rock was big at the time, and I was responsible for bringing stuff like Bowie's Berlin trilogy and quirky new wave music to the proceedings. Once the booze and other stimulants started taking effect, weird music always had the ability to unify us in our private little off-campus world. Call it keeping a sense of wonder alive, collegiate-style.

If I'd had this Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities disc back then, it would've been an instant hit. Indeed, "glorious weirdness" is a succinct way to sum up the platter. Sonic ringleader of this boundary-trampling excursion is Matt Mehlan, who claims in the press release that he was inspired by driving through Kansas and other vast open states, looking for the Garden of Eden. Somehow I doubt that he found it there, but he's certainly captured something on disc that evokes a mysterious journey. The instrumentation here is wildly interesting: a string quartet, a horn ensemble, contrapuntal percussion on most tracks that really gets into your subconscious, and the requisite keys and guitars, all used in formula-defying ways.

Mehlan clearly doesn't think like other musicians—the entire aesthetic of this record is trippy, even revelatory at times. Summoning a sort of ghostly, late-night vibe, Mehlan arranges these tracks like a witch at her cauldron, stirring and stirring the bubbling brew in hopes of conjuring magickal forces. Not one song takes the easy way out. "Hay W'happns?" features a steady drumbeat, Radiohead-style soft vocals, and dramatic blasts of trumpet, all fitting together quite well. "Don't Worry" utilizes at least two different percussion loops and a forward-surging torrent of keyboards and horns that eventually gets all avant-jazzy.

Two of the most memorable tracks are "The Shit From the Dogs"—which is weirdly haunting with its classical strings and sweetly somber vocal—and "Let It Out," an intricately arranged composition in which the dazzling rhythms, gorgeous strings, and falsetto vocals produce genuine shivers. Then there's "Sickness," a track that's downright funky at times, but in a thoroughly eccentric manner (dig that crazy background chorus towards the end) and "Push ‘im Out," which gets a bit discordant but fades slowly out on some sublime acoustic guitar.

The textures on this CD ebb and flow, weave in and out, soothe and repel…all in a truly bewitching manner. There's something very nocturnal about this music, and that really rang true when I fell asleep near the ostensible end during one listen and awoke about 15 minutes later in the middle of the incredibly mesmerizing hidden track—a swirl of dream-scoping psychedelia the likes of which I've not heard in ages. So stay tuned after track nine ends, kids. And remember: hypnotic listening experiences like this are what iPods and iTunes can never replace… A | Kevin Renick

RIYL: TV on the Radio, the last two Liars albums, Finnish freak-folk

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