The Skull Defekts

Peer Amid (Thrill Jockey)

(out of five)

Sweden’s The Skull Defekts are something of a chameleon. It’s not that the band has adopted different personae as inspiration or the zeitgeist dictated, it’s that the band has never embraced a singular identity long enough to even be pigeon-holed. Peer Amid, the outfit’s “third ‘rock’ album,” according to Thrill Jockey Records, further complicates any notion of the band’s identity as they’ve added a new member: former Lungfish vocalist and throat-singing shaman Daniel Higgs.
And in as true a form as possible, the band makes one of the least straight-forward rock records imaginable. Leaning heavily on circular riffing and minimalist structures, Peer Amid is really only a rock record in that it’s guitar-based and most of those guitar noises are coated in a warm blanket of overdrive. Plus, every once in a great while, they tease you with what, on any other album, would be the lead-in to a giant, rafter-rattling chorus. The best of these is on the title track, which also opens the album.
Higgs’ flinty intones, backed by the sinewy sustain of an electric guitar, are broken up by arena-sized chords and a whirling tornado of electronic hiss and just fists begin pumping in anticipation of a otherworldly wail for the chorus, the bottom drops out, the guitars break into noisy twitches and the bottom-heavy drums carry the song until Higgs returns to his chants. It’s about the best cock tease you can imagine. And at a few seconds past the nine-minute mark, you should be ready to explode.
This is followed by the only cut which could be deemed a pop song, a big fat release after “Peer Amid”: “No More Always.” With a sleazy garage rock hook, a faux-sitar breakdown, and Higgs’ reverb-slathered ramblings, “No More Always” could be the love child of Captain Beefheart and The Stooges.
Peer Amid’s greatest successes come when the rhythm section finds itself. For all the winding and expansiveness–only one cut under four minutes and four eclipse six–the songs rarely feel over long. The one exception to this is the Sonic Youth-aping of “Fragrant Nimbus.” The song itself, is pretty solid, but it never finds the solid stomp or groove of the rest of the album; I invariably look down at my iPod at the mid-point (three or so minutes in) and wonder when it will end. In fact, to find that there are still two songs left after this shambling track, I have occasionally groaned. I have, for this review, listened to “Fragrant Nimbus” a few times in isolation, and I find it more enjoyable than in the context of the record, but the cacophonous stormy break-down in the middle of the song does really mark the point where the album careens off the tracks for me.
The closing duo, especially album capper, “Join the True,” to adjust the course sufficiently. In the end, it really does feel like a bad bit of sequencing that leaves me a bit cold. But if you’ve been missing Lungfish, like me, I don’t think we’ll get much closer than this. Especially since Higgs seems to be out wondering in the forest singing to trees if a quartet of Swedes aren’t giving him some serious driving rhythms.

Peer Amid, the latest from The Skull Defekts, drops February 22nd on Thrill Jockey Records, you can swing over here and get in on the pre-order. You can also get an ear-full of the album’s lead single, the afore-dismissed “Fragrant Nimbus” below. It’s really not that bad, it just doesn’t seem to suit Peer Amid:

The troupe, with Higgs, will be making its way across the Midwest in late March, dates below:

03/27 – Turf Club, Minneapolis, MN
03/29 – White Lightning Warehouse, Iowa City, IA (Mission Creek Festival)
03/30 – Lemp Neighboorhood Arts Center, St. Louis, MO
03/31 – Hideout, Chicago, IL