Thursday, April 1, 2010

Blackout Beach- Skin Of Evil

Unable to sleep one night a few weeks ago, my frazzled, restless mind had me tossing and turning before I gave up and retrieved my iPod from its resting place on the floor near my bed. "May as well listen to something new," I thought, and curiously I flicked my fingers and tapped until Blackout Beach's Skin Of Evil began. A drum machine spat out a pulsing, off-kilter beat before atmospheric guitar shards came in, followed by subtle, choir-like "ahhh ohhhs." Then Carey Mercer's singular voice arrived on stage, as if in mid-sentence already: "And I think there was men before me/who were too scrambled/by Donna's awesome, awesome power." Spellbound by what I was hearing from an artist I thought I knew well enough from his other projects, I listened to the whole thing, spellbound. Oh, I eventually got to sleep, too.

"Spellbound" is a word people sometimes use without really meaning what they think it means. It's like how you say "today was the worst day ever!" when you have very likely had much worse days. But "spellbinding" is exactly how I would describe
Skin Of Evil. It is such a unique piece of music, and casts a kind of spell over me such that I forget about everything else except it: I'm no longer hungry or tired or sad, I'm just absorbing it like a sponge. Some concerts have been this way for me, and I'm sure other people can relate to that. But it's rare that an album so engrosses me that I find it difficult to listen to as background music while driving or writing.

Though it's a very strange, non-traditional sounding one, Carey Mercer's main band, Frog Eyes, is very definitely a rock band. Guitars, driving drum beats, supporting bass and keyboards, and vocals: a traditional rock set-up even if it's in the service of crazy sounding music. Blackout Beach is something else entirely, though. The music is far more fractured, experimental, and non-traditional than Frog Eyes, bringing to mind adjectives like "atmospheric" and "cinematic" though employing the same instruments as Frog Eyes. The guitars have a distorted, echoey sound that makes them sound like storm clouds gathering silently-but-menacingly over Mercer on 'The Roman' or like searing metallic shards on 'Astoria, Menthol Lite, Hilltop, Wave Of Evil, 1982.' Most notable of all, however, is the fact that drums and percussion are used very sparingly. This lends
Skin Of Evil even more of a groundless, airy feel in sharp contrast to the martial, monolithic Frog Eyes beats. When it is employed, it's usually in free jazz like patterns and explosions, matching the fragmented guitars, such as on 'William, The Crowd, It's William.' Mercer's vocals are, if possible, even more free of rhythm and structure than they are in Frog Eyes, though without any of the usual screaming and yelling stuff.

In fact, the use of female vocals to mix with his on the album is one of its most distinctive features; 'Nineteen, One God, One Dull Star' is downright lovely for it affectingly traditional, ballad-like beginning, though it eventually becomes something darker and stranger. Those two words apply to the films of David Lynch, too, and I can't help but picture some of the scenes from his movies when I listen to
Skin Of Evil. In a video I made about all of Mercer's albums with his various bands, I said that this album sounded like the soundtrack to an unreleased David Lynch film, and I meant it. There's some kind of story at work here--the names William, Sophia, and Donna are mentioned frequently--but I have no idea what it's about. I do know it takes place only on overcast gray afternoons, full moon nights, and chilly early mornings. At least, that's what the music makes me imagine.

It's safe to say that there's really nothing I've heard that sounds like
Skin Of Evil. I can't think of any bands or albums that are similar, and it's pretty telling that my only other reference point is the films of David Lynch. It could be I'm simply missing out on some obvious influences due to my limited knowledge, but I'd prefer to think this album really is as unique as it seems to be. Dark, cinematic, and spellbinding, Skin Of Evil is a work of visionary genius, proving Mercer's talent is greater than even I realized.
5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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