An informal poll in the Pitchfork break room found Skeletons’ Matt Mehlan compared to Jamiroquai and Arthur Russell. Weird, right? I respect the assessments, actually, but lean toward Russell’s fragility, especially as heard on World of Echo. Mehlan does foster a sunny vibe you could consider kinda Jay Kay on delivery alone, but a closer approximation is Russell’s semi-falsetto and the fractured instrumentation graphed to the Sea & Cake’s Sam Prekop.
Skeletons began as the solo project of Shinkoyo Records co-founder Mehlan. His last record, I’m at the Top of the World, received praise here at Pitchfork, and before that he released Everybody Dance With Your Steering Wheel in 2002 and Life and the Afterbirth in 2003. Mehlan’s still the skipper on Git, but after playing live shows with a backup band, he’s opted to lay down a recording with collaborators tagged “The Girl-Faced Boys.” They’re now a multi-instrumental five-piece in which everyone sings, plays percussion, and contributes a share of the guitar, bass, and laptop clicks.
Despite the time spent unpacking timbre, Mehlan’s voice is just one component of Skeletons’ assorted post-rock, world-beat electro-acoustics: Imagine aforementioned warblers backed by Liquid Liquid, Talking Heads, and perky IDM. Still, the way he croons on a given track is often its make-or-break. At times, he is too Jamiroquai. In fact, the best moments arrive when he lets music drift away from language, as on “Do You Feel Any Better?,” which drops vocals after a couple minutes, allowing electro clicks and curves complete with rain forest sounds to lift-off. Belying its goofy name, “There’s a Fly In Your Soup and I Put It There” is a ghostly chorus of bleats and sighs over digital tweaks and twitters, and the opening patch of “Y’all Thinks It’s Soo Easy”, a tag of percussion woven with a clipped loop and muffled Mariachi, could be expanded into the best !!! ever.
There are instances where the vocal/instrumental paring goes well, such as on “While We Were at the Movies”, a piano/laptop-fronted piece that evaporates amid a libretto of removal: “Take away the locks on your door/ Take away your aspirin/ Take away your knives/ Take away of your alcohol, etc.” It makes sense to stop the song mid-beat, as it too is removed with all this other domestic detritus.
I know Mehlan’s at times singing about mild darknesses, but Git always sounds pristine, as if songs were vacuum-packed in post-production. Because of this, even when the lyrics deal with scratching mosquito bites until nails come off or showing scars or when Mehlan sings “We won’t be proud/ We’ll just think you’re an idiot”, I kept thinking “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Likewise, there’s talk of the experimental “out” sounds of the instrumentation, but despite his liberal use of bells and whistles (and junkyard percussion), even mainstream hip-hop offers more oddly shuffling (and often more compelling) accompaniment.
But just because this isn’t as innovative or feverish as some would have you believe doesn’t mean Git lacks value. The songs are pretty and I imagine these guys will have success, but much of the time it sounds like it was recorded in an operating room. Dr. Mehlan and company really outta scuff-up the sterility.