Release Date: Feb 19, 2013
Record label: Woodsist
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Noise-Rock
Portland, Oregon noise pop crusties Eat Skull return with their third and most considered volume of lo-fi scuzz rock. III was assembled over the course of four years, drawing on the influence of equal parts early Guided by Voices-style home recording magic and the band's own metalhead upbringing. The album's murky pop is buried in sheets of texture, bearing some passing similarities to labelmates like Woods or White Fence while keeping something decidedly more congruous with their misty Pacific Northwestern surroundings.
In the context of Led Zeppelin’s discography, III is the “soft” record. Before then, Zeppelin was known as a bunch of knuckle-dragging lemon-squeezers who distorted the blues with consciousness-shifting levels of pure volume. But on III, they embraced acoustic instrumentation and more thoughtful songwriting. This bugged old fans, but it made the band more palatable for everybody else.
Artists typically don the “lo-fi” badge for one of two reasons: it’s the cheapest and easiest way to record your scrappy garage band in their most natural state, or it’s an aesthetical choice, where the fuzz and tape hiss becomes an instrument in itself to sculpt the artist’s wildest musical fantasies. The former is often more simplified and song-oriented than the more experimental latter, but for a long time, most of the mediums’ pioneering artists managed to exist as both at the same time. Bands like Guided By Voices, The Magnetic Fields, and Sebadoh used magnetic tape like an easel to scribble the bizarre crayon doodles of their imagination, but each artist was still a full functioning band when need be (ok, maybe less so for the Magnetic Fields) that could break out songs with deeply infectious hooks at a moment’s notice.
“All music theory refers to something that has already happened, but if it is taken as a prescription, or worse as a manifesto, heaven help you. ”– Steve Reich It’s hard to make a “by-the-term” defining argument, political or contextual, for lo-fi aesthetics, for making the most out of the least, for tape obscuration and reckless songwriting abandon. Once neatly summed up for a niche group of artists as “shitgaze,” a term mostly embraced (irreverently) by Psychedelic Horseshit, the term seems to have since fallen apart.
Portland noise-rock maestros Eat Skull have been fuzzing it out since their 2008 debut, Sick to Death, but on their third album—the aptly named III—the fuzz is leavened with a distinctly pop sensibility. This might not sit well with longtime fans, or with listeners of a purist persuasion, but many others are likely to enjoy what they hear. Time will tell whether this augers a new direction for the band or if it’s just a momentary detour, but for the time being at least, the results are promising.
In the mid-’00s, anything with enough lo-fi, in-the-red noise could make a splash. At times it became difficult to pick out which record came from which band, and what genre was sitting underneath all of that fuzz. As that trend faded, the bands that stuck around either continued to champion the noise or pulled it back to reveal their core. Portland’s Eat Skull tends toward the latter with their third album, appropriately titled III, with Rob Enborn’s garage hooks and throaty vocals spun closer into focus.
Portland’s Eat Skull were the scuzziest of the scuzzed-up lo-fi bands on the scene when their debut album ‘Sick To Death’ emerged in 2008. It sounded as though it had been recorded hastily at gunpoint by someone obsessed with turning it up to 11. Feedback, distortion and indecipherable vocal screams saw the group placed in a short-lived sub-genre known as ‘shitgaze’.
Portland’s Eat Skull, who made an impression with their 2008 debut Sick to Death (followed quickly by Wild and Inside), were herded early on into the “shitgaze” movement with bands like Times New Viking, thanks to their bottom-shelf production values and interest in generally making a racket. But scrape off the feedback and tape hiss, and Eat Skull doesn’t really have a comfortable home—they’re an indie rock band, yes, but one without defined style. After a four-year hiatus, the band is making a go at cleaning up their act with III, a humble, charming record that reveals the band’s talent for melodic and atmospheric ‘90s-style indie rock, but also a bit of a wandering spirit.