Ahead of the latest album from New York-based outfit Skeleton$ founding member Matt Mehlan wrote about the making of the record fearing that creating and recording music in the way the band has done over the years was coming to an end, or at least becoming out of reach for artists without significant means. Whilst the proliferation of home recording and editing software has made it easier for musicians to create and release music, the saturation of streaming services and the subsequent decline of legitimate sales has made it increasingly difficult for artists and labels to invest money into audacious, esoteric recording projects. Does this signal the death of risk-taking and experimentation in music? Skeleton$’ latest T-shirt design would suggest so, but simply put the answer is no. Artists will always find ways to push boundaries, in fact the introduction and adaptation of new technology motivates artists to explore its limitations and find ways to manipulate it beyond its original intention.
Mehlan’s point is certainly still a valid one and unfortunately for the listener some musicians may never be afforded the opportunity to fully realise a project, thus resigning themselves to a compromised, yet affordable interpretation.
With this unfortunate development in mind we should count ourselves lucky that Skeleton$ were given an opportunity to record their ninth album Am I Home? in the way it was intended, and it is far richer for it.
With an ensemble including (amongst others) Greg Fox, Mike Pride, and Caley Monahan-Ward, the sound of Am I Home? is grand, complex, and brimming with an anxious energy. The overlapping muted guitar parts, syncopated rhythms and panning synth on ‘Isn’t Infinite’ create a swirling atmosphere verging on vertigo. And the claustrophobia of ‘Don’t smother it’ is a cacophonous storm of emotions which echoes some of the more raucous moments from 2012’s Skeleton$ Big Band album.
But just as the music threatens to engulf you some relief is provided with songs like ‘Success’ and album closer ‘Another Week’. This reprieve however is deceiving. Whilst the music may appear more laid back, the lyrical themes are no-less stark with Mehlan in typically fine form. Never one to shy away from weighty topics, this time around the lyrics feel more inward facing, no doubt a result of the circumstances surrounding the albums creation. At times the poetic nature of the lyrics are difficult to penetrate and at other times like on ‘It’s Infinite’ with its meditation on the daily grind, they are stripped of all embellishment, plain and straightforward for all to relate to.
Am I Home? sounds like a band exercising their limited freedom to explore, making the most of the ensemble at hand and using the studio as instrument. The song writing is sharp and the execution is considered but loose enough to give the music a life of its own. Extended passages with repeating lines that subtly shift while the surrounding parts expand and contract benefit from the group dynamic, a point which the band seems determined to exploit.
If, as Skeleton$ suggest we are witnessing the death of music, Am I Home? is certainly a fitting eulogy. A fading reminder of what recordings could be, relegated to the hallowed corners of some internet archive.