Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities: "LUCAS"

The conceptual thread running through Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities' Git-follow-up "LUCAS" is about as perplexing as the music itself. According to Skeletons' leader Matt Mehlan, the album title comes from a small Kansas town whose name was then fleshed out into a narrative about both paradise and a boy who's pulled from familiar surroundings to find “freer nowhere places.” Don't worry if the album's lyrics and identity-related themes seem a little, well, mystifying ‘cos it's not so much what Mehlan's singing that's relevant so much as the total fabric of sound the band generates; furthermore, with the instrumental dimension of the group's sound mixed so high, the vocals act more as a sonic element than conveyor of lyrical meaning. In short, whatever appeal "LUCAS" has is predicated less on what than how it's said by Mehlan, guitarists Jason McMahon and Tony Lowe, drummers Jon Leland and Mike Ames, bassist Carson Garhart, and horn players Peter Evans, Sam Kulik and Cyrus Pireh.

Skeletons and the Kings of All Cities specialize in unhinged pop psychedelia and a skewed and exuberant take on conventional pop structures. "LUCAS" at times resembles a mutant, be-bop mix of Art Ensemble of Chicago, King Sunny Ade, and Mouse on Mars with Mehlan's soft, sometimes falsetto voice occupying the center of the band's demented maelstrom. The stylistic twists and turns are typically dizzying: “What They Said,” a woozy neo-soul stomp underscored by an African guitar groove, is executed with jubilant abandon. Elsewhere, Hawaiian guitars and shuddering strings collide (“Like It or Not”), the gumbo jazz of a trumpet-and-trombone duel collides with a rocking tribal pulse (“Hay W'Happns?”). In the eleven-minute “Don't Worry,” a Mingus-styled, African-jazz backing—so dense it flirts with cacophonous—roars and rumbles while Mehlan's unfazed vocal dances above. The bizarre combinations continue when the group ties a very inelegant title (“The Shit from The Dogs”) to a strings-heavy, acoustic-jazz ballad setting. For those who like their pop contaminated by warped freakouts and junkyard gamelan.

June 2007