The original noise-rock New Yorkers, Live Skull are back with part album, part nostalgia trip – Dangerous Visions. Released on Italian label, Bronson Records, you’ll either view it as a band with a lack of material trying to make a buck or an older, wiser group with something to say about the state of the nation.
You may need a couple of runs on this record. It’s an eclectic mix with plenty of quality in both its respective timelines.
On side one (or, the first six tracks) we are served up a collection of new-ish songs from the past couple of years, while on side two, the band go back in time to revisit what we must assume is a proud moment from 1986’s Peel Session. Fortunately, Live Skull sound just as contemporary thirty-odd years later.
The first half of Dangerous Visions is the sound of a band re-defining themselves while retaining their original identity; cynical, suspicious and frank. This is matched by a heavier sound with rumbling bass lines, Soundgarden-esque guitars and caustic vocals. They may hail from the generation that spawned luminaries such as Sonic Youth and Swans but Live Skull have a superior sense of melody, which balances the gloom.
The driving grunge of Day One of the Experiment is complemented by lead guitarist Tom Paine’s melancholic lead guitar. And on Dispatches, singer and founder Mark C channels Can’s Malcolm Mooney as he intones over Krautrock guitars: “Sending out dispatches from beyond the safe frequencies trying to explain what went wrong.”
Frequencies and distrust of leaders is a repeating motif on Live Skull’s new songs. Again on side one closer, Twin Towers: “Is there any point in panicking the republic?” offers their view of a true world being kept from the public.
Then we turn back the clock offering a slew of previously-unreleased material. The first four tracks come from a 1989 appearance on John Peel’s BBC radio show. Recorded during a tour for the album Positraction and featuring Thalia Zedek on vocals, the session includes two songs written after that final release.
It’s visceral, youthful, and although a bit like a rough diamond, full of (unfulfilled) promise. Safe From Me and Adema, are highlights, delivering the frenetic post-no wave rock sound they electrified live shows with in NYC’s underground. The latter, a jacked-up smash-n-grab that still makes a pretty fine impression to 21st century pandemic sickened ears. It’s the kind of set that makes you want to sell limbs just to see a band like them play live again.
It’s a strange record for strange times and that’s cool.