What’s the opposite of rigor mortis, that stiffening of the joints that immediately follows death? Well, whatever it is, that’s the best way to summarize the sensation of taking in the new LP from the Bobby Lees, a Woodstock, New York garage-rock quartet with sex, sweat, and lightning bolts of electricity surging through their collective veins.
The excellent Skin Suit is not the group’s first foray into the studio, though it speaks with the same hungry, passionate desire to leave behind its mark. This thing claws from the gutter to the heavens. That debut distinction belongs to 2018’s Beauty Pageant, which, in homage perhaps to its dirgy, grungy grind, featured a cover with the band mimicking the muddy poses of Mudhoney’s “You Got It (Keep It Out of My Face)” Sub Pop single. Well, Skin Suit makes the proto-punk of Beauty Pageant seem half-thought-out, like the work of a lesser band. The new record, which was produced by the Blues Explosion’s titular/legendary Jon Spencer (more on that later), is a raw and rollicking blast of joyful noise. It is a mighty, mighty thing.
The band waste little time experimenting with and launching off on their sonic flights. The opening track, “Move”, is a punch square to the jaw, from its intentionally error-prone kick-off to its deliciously playful double entendre, which uses listening to records and lending bodies to toy with the notion of temporary physical harbors. Skin suit, indeed. From there, it’s a ramshackle kind of roar from one song to the next, each one building upon the energy of the last. Frontwoman Sam Quartin, who’s clearly schooled in the stage-conscious strutting and character role-play of Spencer, lends a powerful and particularly sex-ridden explicitness to the proceedings. “I gotta let him in,” she moans, with a breathlessness teetering, quite intentionally, on the orgasmic on “Riddle Daddy”. “He just want to mow / But he doesn’t have a body / He needs a body / So I gotta let ‘im in.” The spoken-word interlude “Ranch Baby” might or might not be about ejaculate.
But this is a record that’s about more than just sloppy fucking. This is clearly a constructed message and an electrifying, tightly performed one at that. The superb “Drive”, which the band feature as a video on their website, has a poppy jangliness to its verses that is beautifully betrayed by the head-long plunge of driving drums and bass that crash down in the chorus. A playful “la-la-la” bridge is also worth noting for its sense of joy and abandon. “Coin”, another standout and one of the record’s brightest points, has a rollicking, even funky, undertow (kudos to bassist Kendall Wind). The band distance themselves from its geographic point of origin with little hints of urban flair, like the way Quartin phrases “with your” as “witcha”.
The Bobby Lees clearly benefit from Spencer’s production, which, like the best Blues Explosion work, is decadent but a student of the decadence that came before it. Alive Naturalsound is also wise to package downloads of the 11-track CD (last song: “Last Song”) with two cover gems, a gnarled, highly subversive take on Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” (which Quartin performs with cocky bravado) and an enthralling cover of Richard Hell’s “Blank Generation”.
Skin Suit is a raucous ride from beginning to end. Cover to cover, this thing’s got you by the short hairs. Quartin is the star and a light that you can’t seem to blink out, but the whole band is a well-oiled and furious blues-punk machine. Just remember to bring protection. If the swagger of most of this thing is any clue, you’re going to need it.