Sailing Skeleton Coast
The outdoor stage abounded with goofballs: a cherubic angel; a sexy cop; a young woman in black army boots, black fishnets, a black microdress, and bank-robber mask; a slight person of indistinct gender in a fuzzy red jumpsuit with a white circle on the chest around the words “Thing 1”; a similarly dressed androgyne (“Thing 2”); and someone, a fully grown adult no doubt, in a bunny suit. They were all dancing like crazy, bouncing and swaying, their arms wriggling like Airdancers, heads bobbing spasmodically.
Rising into the Fort Worth summer sunset from among the costumed throng was a shimmering, ectoplasmic blast of alternately twinkling and roaring guitars, abstract yet steady beats, and subtly stirring vocal melodies. Skeleton Coast had never played Friday on the Green, a free monthly concert series at Magnolia Green Park on the Near Southside, and the young musicians just wanted to be memorable.
Mood and vibe, along with adventurousness and a strong backbone, largely determine the Fort Worth quartet’s aesthetic choices. Guitarist/keyboardist/vocalist Bobby McCubbins, guitarist/keyboardist Ryan Torres-Reyes, drummer Brian Garcia, and bassist Brian Songy do a lot of things, including writing songs, based mostly on feel. But what results is always original and highly developed, bordering on esoterica but still meaty and accessible, and defiantly unlike anything else in North Texas. In a universe full of landscape painters, Skeleton Coast is Marcel Duchamp.
The band is about to release its debut album, an eponymous collection of eight simple yet dynamic songs produced by the band and two veteran Fort Worth musos: the now-Los Angeles-based Jordan Richardson (Ben Harper & The Relentless7, EPIC RUINS, Son of Stan), who has spent a lot of time in the control booth, and a relative newbie to production, Steve Steward (Oil Boom, Vorvon, Kevin Aldridge & The Appraisers, EPIC RUINS). “For one thing, [Skeleton Coast] is different from most of the bands around here,” Steward said. “They’re not playing folk or Southern rock, and every time I saw them, I would think about what I’d want to hear from their record, what I would do if I had a band like that. All four of them have lots of interesting ideas sonically.”
What usually follows the release of an alarmingly brilliant debut platter is a string of high-profile tour dates, followed by, of course, world domination. Right? Not for the guys in Skeleton Coast. They’re relatively chill. They will tour, eventually, but they plan to spend the next few weeks working the record, sending it to progressive blogs and radio stations, promoting it on social networking sites, and maybe even tugging on a few fancy coattails. Skeleton Coast also will be the inaugural release from Dreamy Soundz, a label and boutique analog studio co-founded and -owned by Robby and Jennifer Rux. The husband-and-wife team, who run Dreamy Soundz out of their home in the Near Southside’s historic Fairmount District, has worked with some of the most groundbreaking underground artists in town, including Fungi Girls, Year of the Bear (for which Robby drums and sings), and The Longshots. Skeleton Coast will be available in digital format and on vinyl only.
The Skeleton Coast guys also plan to keep writing. Some of the songs on the album are as old as the band. “Rupees,” the second track, is the first tune that Skeleton Coast ever wrote, back in 2010. “We didn’t even think about recording or being in a band,” McCubbins said over coffee recently at Brewed, a new Fairmount coffeeshop/bar near the house/practice space that McCubbins shares with Garcia. “It was just a natural thing. … Even now listening to those [older] songs, we can play them better. That’ll happen all the time with every band. You’ll always get better.”
Though said sincerely, “play them better” is a pretty audacious statement, one that seems even bolder and more ludicrous-sounding after one listen to Skeleton Coast. Recorded in the spring at Barry Eaton’s Justin studio, a.k.a. The Swamp, a.k.a. Electric Barryland, the album is truly epic. There aren’t any odd time signatures, wonky guitar solos, or dramatic, mathematically calculated shifts in tempo, nothing “epic” in the rocking ’n’ rolling traditional sense of the term. No, Skeleton Coast merely brims with clearly defined, easily digestible passages that ebb and flow with enough melody to keep the momentum surging. And there are tsunamis of sound. Not walls. Tsunamis. Nearly every song explodes into massive, unyielding pulsations of echoing, resonating guitars, crashing cymbals, and driving synths.
Like any head trip, Skeleton Coast unfolds like a good ol’ fashioned psychedelic-rock album. The chaos is always tempered by contemplativeness. The guitars and drums on the first track, “Manchester,” throb like giant pistons beneath a wailing guitar –– but they are juxtaposed with barebones breakdowns of just soft guitar, bass, and vocals and also at times with just the pitter-patter of hollow drums and synth bubbles. For an ending, the band opted for bombast, the song’s thunderous crescendo powered by the squawking Coltrane-esque saxophone of Fort Worth’s Jeff Dazey (Josh Weathers & The True+Endeavors, EPIC RUINS, Dazey Chain).
A staunchly pop-influenced sensibility dominates the album’s first few songs. The jungle-pop of “Rupees,” with its tribal drums and McCubbins’ primal falsetto yelps, comes to a sudden stop, leaving a void that’s filled by the understated but catchy “World”: Channeling New Order, the drummer rattles off small beats on his cymbals and snare as the guitarists harmoniously spin polyphonic little figures into delicious, flowery themes, painting a thousand pictures with just a few colors. The vocal line is thin but radiant. “I close my eyes,” McCubbins sings, his voice high, distant, and nasally, maybe even a pinch bratty. “Patterned up with pixel lines / I fail to move / Take steps closer to you / Open my arms / Keeping you away from harm / My hands grow tired / Living my day from what you inspire.”
“World” gives way to probably the most gorgeous song on the album, “Young.” A skipping snare beat beneath a couple of tiny, glittering guitar notes serves as a sort of false intro. A full stop is followed by a kick-drum heartbeat: boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom. The song eases into cosmic reverie, all lazily strummed guitar clang and splashing cymbals, with McCubbins’ voice full of yearning, lamenting youth, death, and “kingdoms lost.” The dream state thickens but only for a moment –– the heartbeats have returned. The dance continues until the song expands into a swirling frenzy that unceremoniously collapses. A weird warning siren buzzes ominously until fade-out.
The last half of Skeleton Coast belongs to space-rock: lots of monstrous soundscapes (“Sludge,” the 10-minute-long “Untitled”), a swaying, drifting ballad (“Greenhouse”), and a spooky dirge: The essentially a capella “Forget” was recorded about a year ago by Songy in the band’s old house/practice space near Texas Christian University. A single candle illuminated the room as McCubbins sang. “We were just hanging out, getting stoned,” he recalled of the session. “We were about to go see Panda Bear. It was my birthday. There was just great energy. I did it in one take.”
The song never would have ended up on the album had not Songy played a recording for co-producers Richardson and Steward. “They said, ‘We’re putting this on the record,’ ” McCubbins remembered. “I said, ‘It’s not a real song,’ but listening back now, it really makes sense. … It’s like that chill thing before the bombardment of noise” (“Sludge” and “Untitled”).
To approximate the album’s rich textures and massive sound during live shows, the band has recruited Fort Worth singer-songwriter and former Neon Indian guitarist Ronnie Heart. He will join the band for its album-release party this weekend at The Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge. There may or may not be wacky costumed dancers onstage, but the show should be unforgettable.
Skeleton Coast album release
Sat w/Burning Hotels, Son of Stan. The Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge, 1311 Lipscomb St, FW. $12.