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The Skull Defekts
The Skull Defekts Noel Gardner , February 26th, 2018 08:59

The last and best album from Sweden’s noisy avant-rock experimenteers.

This album is a career highpoint for Sweden’s Skull Defekts, a group who have already paid their dues and then some in the field of strafing psychedelic noiserock. Readers – and I know I’m playing to the crowd with this bit because we have all your data – who enjoy acts from Sonic Youth to Factory Floor to Gnod ought to be all over The Skull Defekts. Does it matter that this is not only their best album but also their last, since founder member Joachim Nordwall decided to break the band up when recording began in 2016? Not to you, the smart listener who recognises that great creative endeavour can live on more or less in perpetuity.

Nordwall seems like an ambitious, tireless and exacting musician, based on the genesis of The Skull Defekts, who formed in early 2005 almost instantly after the breakup of his previous band, sassy no wavers Kid Commando. (I promoted a gig on their final tour at that time, which drew what I suspect was a demoralisingly small audience.) Unafraid to tap up Swedish underground legends to make a racket with him, the Defekts were initially a duo of Nordwall and Henrik Rylander, who’d been in tastelessly named psych/garage outfit Union Carbide Productions, and later expanded to a quartet which included Jean-Louis Huhta, ex of crust punk legends Anti-Cimex. Their most crucial coup was transatlantic – meeting Baltimore sage and former Lungfish singer Daniel Higgs, discovering kinship in his billion-year-old gnostic wisdom, and cutting collabs together including 2014 album Dances In Dreams Of The Known Unknown, the finest Skull Defekts release until this one.

The Skull Defekts makes one final lineup alteration, as Huhta drops out and Mariam Wallentin enters. You may know her from Wildbirds & Peacedrums, a loosely experimental indie/folk duo from Gothenburg who never made much impression on me; here, she’s a revelation, enlivening nine minutes of quixotic tunings and gothic-tribal drums on ‘Slow Storm’ with a litany of wails, sighs and single-word utterances, equally redolent of Kim Gordon and Cosey Fanni Tutti. Which, given that latter-day Skull Defekts bend equally towards Sonic Youth and Throbbing Gristle, is analogically handy. On ‘Powdered Faces’, itself muscled up by Nordwall riffs which hang in the air like fog, she initially seems to echo the mystical vocal manner of Higgs, maybe with some PJ Harvey in there as well, and her repetitious “milkshake-shake-shake-shake-shake...” lyric is one burrowing earworm.

Mind, even when/if The Skull Defekts are an instrumental band, they can still lock you in their zone. ‘A Brief History Of Rhythm, Dub, Life And Death’, understated title and all, opens the album with a freight-train clatter down the railroad that runs parallel to the autobahn, which is a faffy way of saying it’s on a big This Heat tip. ‘A Message From The Skull Defekts’, its penultimate flourish, is a maximalist frazzler that wraps up in under five minutes but feels, in the best way, like a psychedelic epic.

Closing the book on their career with something titled ‘The Beauty Of Creation And Destruction’, replete with ominous piano chords and Nordwall’s weary-into-wistful vocal, could be seen as labouring the point – but it comes at the end of an album which, while purportedly made in trying circumstances, is an early high-water mark for noisy avant-rock in 2018. Seems likely that Joachim Nordwall has some post-Skull Defekts irons in the fire already, and if you tackle this then you too might be itching to hear them.