In the wake of success of other bands sauntering out of Los Angeles’s all-ages DIY venue, the Smell, Abe Vigoda have delivered their latest release just as you sense the venue has reached its cultural zenith. It’s clear, though, that having been inspired by a Mika Miko show and following HEALTH, No Age, and the Mae Shi to record stores, this Chino-born LA-raised quartet named after a bit-part actor from The Godfather have a lot to live up to.
It’s quickly apparent that this is a crisper, more confident band than they were on last year’s Animal Ghosts EP. In fact, perhaps as proof of their development, the band revisit the title track from that EP. It’s a far tighter, harder, and louder version, one that improves hugely on its predecessor. There’s still post-hardcore brutishness to be had on “The Garden” or “Hyacinth Grrls”, but this is a much less abrasive band than we heard on Kid City.
Despite being no longer than three-and-a-half minutes long, tracks splinter and crackle in several different directions. The irresistible punk of “Live-Long” jolts into a barrage of noise and back again, while “Gates” begins with Fleet Foxes-esque harmonies before replacing the vocals with some bewildering drums. Throughout the album, Michael Vidal and Juan Velazquez’s lyrics are washed out with severe bouts of droning ambience; during “Cranes” and “Endless Sleeper” you can sense Kevin Shields nodding along approvingly. Any time a piece of pop emerges (as it does notably on the chorus of the final track) it’s quickly submerged by Vidal and Velazquez’s noisy guitar loops.
Providing the rhythm are David Reichardt (bass) and Reggie Guerrero (drums). Between them they add a pulsating, almost reggaeton tempo to the noisy dissonance. Abe Vigoda have always had an obvious passion for tropical and world music, but here they go as far as making their reverbed guitars mimic steel drums. To the uninitiated, this might sound as if they’re riding on Vampire Weekend’s coattails, but the band’s playful, experimental spirit is much more in tune with Animal Collective or Dirty Projectors.
However, this giddy scramble of influences, while intoxicating and fevered, is a little way off perfection. From the opening din of “Dead City/Waste Wilderness” to the celebration of closer “Skeleton”, the album is unremitting and exhausting. It’s only 30 minutes long, but it feels much, much longer. With all four members furiously slamming their individual notes, they’re incessantly fighting for your attention amongst themselves with each clank and clatter. It’s not that the album drags, but simply that there’s so much going on in such a short time that claws and fights for your attention. The whole album can be difficult to understand and appreciate. It feels like the album ends before you’ve had a chance to really hear it.
Such unfettered imagination shouldn’t be criticised, however, and it’s up to the listener to lavish repeated listens upon this album. While the individual sounds on the album bear slight comparison with the work of their peers, Skeleton succeeds totally on its own merits. Where it could easily have been muddled and awkward, it’s organised and unified. In fact, as an example of such esoteric noise-mongering, it’s remarkably cohesive.
Cleverly and neatly interwoven to further the sense of disorientation, Skeleton is a concentrated blast of strangely accessible noise that is both bracing and energising.
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