Skallander: Skallander

Skallander's self-titled collection is one of those albums that grows stronger after repeated listens. At first, I was a little bit taken aback by the material's subdued character, especially when broached in the sonic context of Type's other releases, but Skallander gradually works its own particular magic. With its delicate vocal harmonies and piano- and acoustic guitar-based settings, this third album (but first on Type) from long-time collaborators guitarist Matthew Mitchell and Bevan Smith (aka Signer and Over the Atlantic) harks back to the golden singer-songwriter folk era associated with ‘60s acts like Simon and Garfunkel and The Byrds. With Mitchell in Hungary and Smith in New Zealand, the album's material was developed long-distance via the web but the production detail is sonically camouflaged by the material's natural character.

The stark combination of vocals and acoustic guitar that introduces “Dismemberment” is radically unlike much of what's appeared on Type to date, but there's no denying the song's lush charm, especially when muted horns and rich vocal counterpoint push the song into a rambunctious zone. With Mitchell's singing playing such a central role, much of Skallander's appeal pivots on how well he succeeds vocally. On that count, there's little cause for concern: his typically soft vocalizing appeals, whether the delivery is hushed (“Misery”) or Beatlesque (the jaunty “Time is Only a Revolution” inhabits that McCartney “Martha My Dear” mode); sometimes, the vocals appear as nothing more than silken streams of wordless harmonies (“Ingrain”). Bolstered by strong melodic hooks, the almost nine-minute album peak, “Flesh Born Constellation,” evolves through multiple episodes, from rollicking folk tune to gentle wonderland of piano tinkles and acoustic guitar picking before coming to rest in a more free-floating zone. Though the sound is predominantly acoustic in tone, electronic sputter eases “Future Life” into being, but, in general, the electronic dimension is largely subliminally woven into the material's fabric. Though Skallander does occasionally gravitate towards raucous territory (the closing moments of “Time is Only a Revolution”), the mood is largely restrained but not displeasingly so. It's obviously not the most dynamic or provocative release in the Type catalogue, but Skallander still appeals, if in rather unassuming manner.

September 2007