PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Askeleton: Angry Album -or- Psychic Songs

Richard T. Williams

Askeleton

Angry Album -or- Psychic Songs

Label: Goodnight
US Release Date: 2004-04-06
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

About 400 miles from both Iceland and Greenland, to the northeast, is an island called Jan Mayen. Although it now has a Norwegian navigation radio and meteorological station, it has been predominantly uninhabited since its discovery four centuries ago by a Dutch whaling captain. Jan Mayen is glacier-covered and mostly barren, frequently enveloped in storms and fog, and offers no natural resources to the world. In fact, its one distinguishing feature is its active volcano, the northernmost on the map, which last erupted in 1985. Evidence of the volcano's ongoing activity includes vapor, steam, and minor earthquakes. The obvious metaphor here, relating Jan Mayen to this review, would be to state that Askeleton is that distinctive, churning volcano, lacking in lava flow, but mustering up the occasional gust of hot air or ground rumbling while still holding its unique position in the world.

Unfortunately, such is not the case for Askeleton, one of the hundreds of indie pop bands who, since that last eruption, have secretly infested the lava tunnels below the surface of a Jan Mayen-like musical landscape, blissfully unaware of anything beyond the multitudes of other indie pop bands sharing their habitat. Each band is fronted by a principal singer/songwriter with a guitar and a laptop. They make cassettes for one another, sometimes play shows together, and infrequently actually have brothers who belong to more established indie pop bands on larger, less remote islands. Their discographies usually have some continuity in theme, such as each record being about a different state of the union, or a handful of songs about various cities, each entitled "Going to..." followed by that particular city. They write individual songs to act as sequels to entire previous albums, and they namedrop their friends' bands as much as possible. All of these in-jokes tend to obscure the occasional moments of stunning, undeniable brilliance that, more often than not, are only appreciated by the die-hard fans they happen to collect along the way.

Askeleton is Knol Tate, and Angry Album -or- Psychic Songs is the follow-up to 2002's Sad Album. (Happy Album will be released later this year; it must be important for Askeleton to keep its emotional levels palatable to first-graders.) Since that time, Tate has expanded the band from his one-man bedroom studio project to a live extravaganza, featuring members of End Transmission, Valet, Arsonwelles, Monarques, Vox Vermillion, and Motion City Soundtrack. Most of those bands are absolutely huge in their homeland of Jan Mayen. The expansion has helped develop the sound of Askeleton, which now emphasizes live instrumentation (including occasional drums by his brother Erin, a member of Minus the Bear) more than the Pro Tools renderings of yore. Still, the songs feel machine-made; now he uses the Garageband approach to songwriting, where all the separate tracks, some sampled and some live, fit geometrically together into common patterns. Each song feels like a finished work, with developing parts, appropriate dynamics, electronic details to fill the spaces, and background vocals that actually enhance the song. "Untitled No. 4", which borders on lovely, is the best example of this, and may be one of Askeleton's rare brilliant moments. But, while Tate is a master at imitating pop song structure, he does not deliver in the melody department. The unabashedly poppy "Birdman" is catchy and clever, but too simple. Other uptempo numbers like "Queenie" and "Ghosts" have no melody at all. Even in cases where the music is attractively tuneful, such as the familiar, piano-dominated "A Secret", Tate's processed vocal deflates it. He fares somewhat better with lyrics, which run the gamut from strange and refreshing ("It takes a pillow to put over a face") to deep ("This is the deniance of god / While I wipe myself from existence") to unnatural and clumsy ("Goodbye to shapelessness / Goodbye to unhappiness / Goodbye to everyone / Goodbye to complacentness [sic]") to completely inane, such as the unfathomable repetition of "doo doo doo doo doo" in the six-minute "$ vs. Entertainment".

The title Angry Album says a lot, because the material isn't all that angry. Some of the songs reflect bitter sentiments, but the album contains no more of these than any other average pop record. The psychic aspect of the subtitle, also unapparent as a running concept throughout, is most likely an afterthought to justify the lack of anger, in spite of the thematic intention. Perhaps the record, not the band, is like that volcano on Jan Mayen: constantly blowing smoke and releasing overheated gas, yet never truly threatening to erupt and remaining safely dormant.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.