(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

CD review - Pink Skull, Psychic Welfare (2011)

Electro-pop grooves offer dance and dissonance

Julian Grefe and Justin Geller's Pink Skull follows a pattern of expansion with each of their album releases. Their last release, Endless Bummer added a band and they've added a couple more members for their latest album, Psychic Welfare.

The album is full of spacy, electronic grooves that toy with disco, techno, and house, but the foundation is a danceable electro-pop. Grefe adds his detached vocals to several of the songs, which is a shift from Pink Skull's earlier albums. When it clicks, like the distant, grey-eyed soul of Ayatollah, it's great. Overall, though, his voice left me longing for someone more dynamic to contrast with the steady beats.

There are several interesting songs scattered through the thirteen tracks, but several are shorter interludes. The shortest of these prove distracting, such as the free jazz sax of Two Bills. The longest interlude, the trancey Late Night Eggs, has some interesting ideas that deserve some longer attention.

Fitting with some of Psychic Welfare's themes of decay and ruin, the flow between the tracks doesn't aim for smoothness. On the other hand, the strong pop aesthetic on several of the songs adds its own contrast to the album's message. This leads to moments like Hot Bubblegum, which seems to parody disco, giving it a synth pop treatment. Verse lyrics seem to offer an assessment of society, but the chorus reduces it all to "Hot bubblegum, it's all over me."

The most listenable track is the blissful, tripping vibe of Mu. It takes a mild trance groove insto a stronger dance-space by merging in a synth pop bass line. This is the sort of direction that Late Night Eggs could have traveled. The steady beat and easy breaks all contribute to the smooth sound. Billy Dufala's embedded sax solo is a tasteful touch.

The single, Bee Nose (Put Yr Face On), begins with a dirty keyboard chord progression that sounds like King Crimson's early work.

Pink Skull - Bee Nose (Put Yr Face On) from RVNG Intl. on Vimeo.

Then, the electro-beat groove kicks in. This sets up a satisfying contrast between the lo-fi elements and the ringing synth lead line. By the end, the fidelity seems to decay, leading to a trippy ending.

Despite the dance beats, Psychic Welfare is more geared for home listening. On its own merits, it's a fairly decent album. The obvious improvement would have been a more coherent track flow. That might have hurt Pink Skull's artistic theme, but it would have given the album more head space.

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