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Money Alex Denney , November 26th, 2008 04:14

Skeletons - Money

Stirred into nauseating life with the selfsame chorus of car horns which must surely have kept its authors awake during recording in Times Square, Money announces itself as New York experimentalists Skeletons’ grapple with the tussle and grime of life in the contemporary urban jungle. The band, actually a rag-tag ensemble from wildly differing musical backgrounds headed up by Chicago-born musician Matt Mehlan, made critical ripples with the release of their sophomore disc Lucas last year.

As an attempt to work those approving mutters into a car-horn cacaphony its follow-up must rank as an interesting failure, however, lacking as it does a coherent presentation or an abundance of incisive premises. Because while Lucas’ submerged production was a cupboard door slammed effectively on a jumble of ideas by turns good, bad and ugly, Money lets it all come tumbling out and it’s difficult to know what’s worth salvaging.

Traffic jams excepted, our scene is set with ‘The Thing’ which sounds like Deerhoof’s dummy-spitting prog hamming outrageously on the smooth jazz sophistication of Marvin Gaye’s 'What’s Going On'. As it would happen the two are about as capable of meaningful congress as Barbie and Ken, and the result is more like a regrettable improv outburst by Jay Kay. An absolute dog’s dinner of reference points, then, but there are at least half a dozen moments within which pierce the clutter and make you think maybe they’re not on the wrong track entirely. Lyrically it’s tricky to decipher but there seems to be a certain amount of ire directed at the high-rolling dick swingers in the city conspiring to bring the world economy to its knees (“It’s too much, I forgot how much they’re paying me”).

The band’s predilection for r’n’b both past and present surfaced on Lucas but is even more to the fore here, and the band acquits itself with impressive restraint on tracks like ‘STEPPER a.k.a. The Work’, whose lascivious guitar hook recalls Sly Stone’s later, loucher records, and ‘Lullaby’ which could almost be an expansive entry into Prince’s late 80s songbook. But Mehler’s voice, a timid mid-point between Dave Longstreth’s atomically unstable croon and sort of a prepubescent Rain Man, isn’t cut out for such soulful work and fails to provide the compositions with a convincing focal point.

While The Dirty Projectors precocious pop overload is certainly an apt point of comparison with much of Skeletons’ crazed output (‘Unrelentinglessness’’ celestial riddling in particular ticks that box), there’s also an unmistakable whiff of free jazz noodling about them, as if Thom Yorke had really made good on those Charlie Mingus allusions he was tossing about circa Kid A and Amnesiac. Certainly, ‘BOOOM! (Money)’’s insidious bass shares much in common with ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, only instead of the silver-black bullets of saxophone hail that skewer that song so precisely, here we’re simply floundering among the funk and the filth of the city; more an unvarnished portrayal than apocalyptic judgement.

We end on a ray of Latin American sunshine with ‘Eleven’ which boasts handclaps and most memorable chorus on the album, but in the end what should have provided a lustrous grace note only reinforces the idea that Skeletons could do with channelling their undoubted chops in the service of some more solid ideas.