Whether it be the Technicolor wanderings of The Merry Pranksters in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, or the echoing thrills of grade school field trips, the simple image of a bus exudes a certain romanticism that coexists with the manic pursuit of the road ahead. Skeletons, originally the brainchild of the Ohio-based instrumental aficionado Matt Mehlan, plucks at the intricate complexities that exist within traditional orchestral music — much like travel deconstructs our notion of distance. The Bus, Skeletons’ latest release, picks up that particular thread of wanderlust riding alongside you on distant highways.
Skeletons’ music belies the bare sound their name implies. If anything, it’s rich and melodic — sometimes too rich to swallow in a single gulp. Complemented by a full band, first track “Numbers (1)” starts the album with a gorgeous, frenetic ambience backed by horns and drums. A consistent beat of congas amplify tension throughout the nine-minute saga, “Tell Him Yr Name, Ann”, with feedback and violin bows running rampant. The latter half of “Tell Him Yr Name, Ann” introduces vocals to the instrumental-heavy album, yelping and raw, striking an inevitable parallel to Avey Tare.
Mehlan’s vocals paint themselves several shades more sinister than Tare’s, however, with themes of bitterness and stark realism. “We depend on time/ To know a truth we can’t believe,” he spits in the eight-minute “On Time”, aligning more with the raucous instrumentation than anyone in Animal Collective, where vocals bluntly contrast the often jarring melodies.
The vocals stitched into the collective quilt of sounds is merely the first display of Skeletons’ true talent — crafting fluidity. Sounds of varying volumes and dissonance meld themselves together into the same thought, shifting without mention. Particularly with the shimmering “We’re the Boss”, Skeletons transform a track from the lull of church organs at the beginning into a majestic, chilling crescendo, placing the listener into a trance.
“I’m Dying To Meet You” and “On Time” swirl and stun with oscillating curlicues of krautrock, experimental jazz, and melodic noise, similar to what one would imagine a shared bill between Can and Colin Stetson would sound like at a funeral. Almost. The relationships that Skeletons explore between traditional orchestral sounds, combined with increasing distortion, is just one measure of the band’s brilliance. Through both its introspection and expansive reach, The Bus operates as a mystical vehicle, seeking incalculable emotional and sonic distances.
Essential Tracks: “We’re The Boss”, “On Time”