Skeletons is the musical project of one Matt Mehlan, and he’s been joined by a large group of friends on all of his releases now. On his previous album Git, the group went by the name Skeletons & The Girl-Faced Boys and played a strange brand of electronic collage pop that was at times oddly infectious. On this follow-up album, Mehlan is joined by some other friends and now calls the group Skeletons & The Kings Of All Cities. The resulting album Lucas is a sprawling, ramshackle pop gem that incorporates everything from dual drummers to huge choral vocal sections and is a large step forward for the gang of musicians.
A loose concept album of sorts, Lucas is essentially about a strange character who witnesses strange things. Mehlen’s explanation is a heck of a lot weirder, but it makes plenty of sense as reflections of our bizarre country as well. Heck, a scan through newspaper headlines often makes me feel like a stranger in a strange land, and that seems to be what’s captured here both lyrically and aurally. “What They Said” kicks things off, and the stomping track is easily one of the best on the release (and possibly one of the better singles I’ve heard this year). A giddy combination of filtered vocals, polyrhythms, low-end blasts, jaunty guitars, horns, and a slew of other instrumentation, it’s five minutes of springtime frolic.
It doesn’t get any more straightforward from there, but the layered, uneasy pop reveals things on multiple listens as the large ensemble lets loose with their everything-and-the-kitchen sink sounds. “Hay W’Happns?” moves with a mangled dub feel as bleating horns, handclaps, rumbling bass, a slathering of percussion, and catchy vocals move things forward in animalistic ways. The ten-minute “Don’t Worry” is even better, bringing multiple layers of melodic guitar into another delirious mixture of horns, choral vocals, lo-fi electronics, and of course big drums. A breezy (but appropriately slightly buzzing) island chilled middle section only helps to build momentum for the even louder second half.
Not every single song knocks things out of the park, and at times the group sounds a little too willfully messy to really keep things together, but more often than not Lucas is a joy of an album that sounds like a big bunch of friends having a good time making great music. The poppy “Let It Out” has electric piano, synths, warm vocals, and a lush string finale that pulls everything together. At times (like on the dense, but soaring “Sickness”), the group sounds sort of like a more adventurous and creepy cousin of the orchestral pop of Sufjan Stevens, but I make that reference in a good way. If you enjoy slightly-skewed pop music, Skeletons & The Kings Of All Ciites have put together a great album.