Shrieking sewer drench guitars, weirdo vocals about bad porno vibes, and drums savagely thrashed about the room. Ferocity and disconcertion in the style of Birthday Party and Beefheart but in a modern idiom, a metal sculpture made with guitar, drums, and vocals, this was Soak the Saddle by Arab on Radar. It made all my other records seem boring and dull and was the album that brought Skingraft Records into my life. I soon was buying anything with their label on it that I could find, the absolutely indescribable Zeek Sheck and Quintron, the black metal/punk/free jazz/prog of the Flying Luttenbachers, the oddball art prog of Cheer-Accident, the savage lurching menace of Dazzling Killmen/Colossamite, the classic rock gone Beefheart of U.S. Maple, the Cramps live at the apocalypse sound of Lake of Dracula, and the surreal beauty of Brise Glace and You Fantastic!, these records and artist reorganized my ideas about music and art and revealed a more swaggering and strange world than the one of placid post-rock, emo hardcore, and sad indie pop.
Through twists of fate I ended up living in Chicago the epicenter of the Skin Graft universe (the label itself has since moved back to St. Louis, its original home). Going to shows there in the early war on terror era (when officials were suggesting we tape our windows shut in case of attack) there were a series of interesting bands that would play out a bunch. The two bass player Magma fixated era of Flying Luttenbachers, Azita from Scissor Girl’s Bride of No No (jagged post punk, the all-female band wore burka style shrouds. Members went on to be in Metalux), Service Anxiety (an amazing Contortions go political hardcore band a la DC’s Metamatics), 90 Day Men (moving from the heirs of Trenchmouth and the DC/ Louisville sound to more abstract regions), My Name is Rar Rar(carnival prog/no wave with Members of Flying Luttenbachers, Xerobot and The Hex), X27 (ex Doutron spiky rock and roll)and the weirdest was Lovely Little Girls. They had disconcerting front man who yes, dressed like a little girl with hideous pancake makeup and had a bizarre voice and set of creepy lyrics to belt out backed by Brecht/Weil gone no wave herky jerky music. Most of these bands have vanished leaving a small scattering of 7 inches or footnotes to other projects. Over the years Skingraft has only occasional reappeared in my life and in no way similarly to that first discovery. As my own bands faded away and less bands appeared that drew me out to shows, and of course school, jobs, and now fatherhood making life a full plate I have given music, even music that inspired loyalty, less attention than it deserves. The label has offered Ruins and Ruins side projects over the years, and some interesting bands with terrible names(Gay Beast and Aids Wolf), but for some reason its recent release of three new albums has gotten my attention.
This brings us to the first record. Lovely Little Girl’s Cleaning the Filth from a Delicate Frame. Somehow Lovely Little Girls is still around and with an expanded lineup since when I saw them, Alex from Cheer Accident and Infection and Decline era Luttenbachers on bass being responsible for the music the band now has more of a prog edge to it. Herky jerky circus prog with a backing chorus, horns and keyboards and bass like Magma (sometimes resembling the darker of the Zuehl bands such as Shub Niggurath) colliding with Beefheart dada jams, Zappa quirkness (not meant in the pejorative and they keep it more consistent than other Zappa heirs such as Mr Bungle and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum) and drug era Butthole Surfers (maybe the drugs continued but definitely before they discovered Beck). The lyrics are obsessed with absurdism, body horror, and those bad porno vibes again. They remind me that bands used to be this obnoxious, fun, art damaged, hilarious, and weird.
Xaddax is a New York based duo of Midwestern refugees. The guitarist and singer should need no introduction to a certain discerning segment of the population. He is Nick Sakes. His career started years ago in the absolute legends of Midwestern noiserock the Dazzling Killmen. This band (one of the original SkinGraft bands) resembled contemporary bands like The Jesus Lizard,Zeni Geva, Slint, Rodan, and Hammerhead but were somehow more compressed, relentless, distraught, and bleak. Their prog/math/jazz take on posthardcore would prove influential on the metalcore bands of Botch and Dillinger Escape Plan for better or worse. He moved on to the confounding and brilliant Colossamite who pulled the posthardcore into knotty constructions as much resembling Beefheart and free jazz. Members of that group moved onto Deerhoof, Flying Luttenbachers, and the Gorge Trio. Nick then started the more relaxed (for him) group Sicbay with elements of Indie Rock (when it rocked), classic punk, and mathier and noisier moments. The drummer is Chrissy Rossettie who use to drum for the brittle no wavers The Hex(find their No Car ep) and then for the previously mentioned My Name is Rar Rar a supergroup of sorts with Greg Peters bringing his crazy man persona from Xerobot(the name makes them sound like electro/robo joke band a la Kraftwerk/Servotron, maybe if those bands only loved grindcore and no wave, their Control Panel is a record that is both hilarious and can toss you around the room, other members traveled onto San Francisco’s robot dance party Numbers and the oddball one-man band Trin Tran) to mangled nowave guitar/synth bass weirdness from Chuck Falzone and Jonathan Hischke of two eras of the Flying Luttenbachers with Rosetti’s drumming keeping it from entirely going of the rails. Xaddax is just Rossetti on synth drums and Sakes on Guitar and it seems a combination of their previous projects with some new twists.. Their ep CounterClockwise is Big Blackesque guitars, rampaging electronics, and shouted/yelped lyrics. more than their previous projects it resembles Pittsburgh’s Microwaves who combined Voivod prog metal/Midwestern noise/Italo horror Prog into a sinister whole. Definitely not a mellowing for either and hopefully a promise for more and maybe on a full length they will stretch their excellent sound a little (perfect restraint for an ep though).
Yowie appeared near the end of a wave of complex, brutal, and confounding instrumental combos such as Upsilon Accrux, Hella,Grand Ulena, Zs and Orthrelm, bands that shredded prog, metal, math rock, no wave, and Beefheart into unrecognizable pieces, and they didn't really make much of an impression as their peers did on me, but thankfully this new ep(after a 8 years hiatus) gets me to reconsider them and of course rush back and grab out their old album. Damning with Faint Praise is the name of the new one and that is what I am probably about to do. Yowie is fairly indescribable, two guitars and drums transmuting punk, prog, Beefheart, funk, nowave, and rock into mutating structures of alien logic with ADD tempos. It kills, energetic and unique and with a sense of lightness and space that many similar bands lack.
Skingraft is a label that celebrates the carnivalesque, the cartoonish, the wild and vulgar, the noisy, and the absurd. Can they still be an alternative to slick uberstars or bearded folk sincerity, or just another niche in the infinite labyrinth of the internet?