Matt Mehlan, the architect and conductor of the Skeleton’s fantastical arrangements, found inspiration for Lucas in an imagined Garden of Eden off a Kansas highway, his own nonsensical fairytales about beauty-obsessed kings, but most of all from his “gnarly” dreams about hair. Whether losing it, finding it tangled in bloody knots, or growing it to the floor, elementary interpretations of follicle nightmares are keys to unlocking Mehlan’s twisted pop vision.
To see hair in one’s dreams signifies sexual virility, sensuality and health.
Indeed the first thing noticed about Lucas compared to its predecessor, 2005’s Git, is the smooth transition from a reliance on electronic gadgets to a more acoustic, organic sound. Certainly there’s still a need for wobbly effects, pitch-shifts, and surgical edits, but Lucas is foremost a surreal opera for the senses; a very fleshy being piqued with luxurious strings, dizzy polyrhythms, syncopated guitar lines, and abject horn squalls. There’s always been a freewheeling communal underbelly to Skeletons compositions, and here, where the songs have become stronger than ever, that tribal synergy is even more profound. From the handclaps and foot-stomps that begin “What They Said,” it is apparent that the beat is central and crucial, the only glue that holds Lucas’ amorphous musings together. Mehlan, this time, surrounds himself with the Kings of All Cities, who disregards tablature in an effort to transcend traditional orchestral unity, playing contrary to his guiding vocal but always orbiting the rhythmic pulse.
If your hair is knotted or tangled, then it is symbolic of uncertainty and confusion in your life. You may be unable to think straight.
“Like it or Not,” is indicative of such a prophecy, as polarizing a song as any on Lucas, pitting gamelan percussion broadcast from a submarine against the sinister swells of a tortured Bernard Herrmann score, before settling into a woozy island breeze. If there’s a constant in Mehlan’s shape-shifting, it’s disturbing any semblance of normalcy and keeping the listener on the tips of their toes, disoriented, but melodically sated. The album provides enough flashes of brilliance to ignore the fact that he’s mentally bewildered to a fault. Unable to ever find a comfort zone, he’s forever inviting opposing influences to the table. As he laments in “Sickness,” he’s got a bad case of the “big ideas.”
The ten-minute “Don’t Worry,” is the apex of those big ideas, beginning with a healthy fetish for Toumani Diabate’s prismatic kora as rhythmic workouts, that then jettisons those colorful peaks to morph into a disembodied jazz-laced improvisation. Likewise, “Let It Out” is comprised of unlikely bedfellows, and knowing that there’s no place for a Babyface torch song on Lucas, makes a host in exquisite harp plucks and lilting violins.
To dream that you are losing your hair, denotes that you may be feeling weak and vulnerable.
If Mehlman possesses an Achilles heel, it’s his penchant for looseness, his innocent and fey voice in the face of such ambitiousness, and a complex adherence to otherness that contradicts the pop element that lies at the heart of his songwriting. His approach gives each track the sense that it’s all about to topple over if one brick is removed and by album’s end, “Push ‘im Out’s” free-for-all deluge becomes a bit trying, an indulgent wank-fest that nearly ruins the psychedelic whimsy that precedes it. But that’s just nitpicking over the truly puzzling anomaly that Lucas really is. Even among Mehlman’s experimental label-mates on Ghostly, the album feels strangely like the future, bad hair days notwithstanding.