The Bobby Lees
Skin Suit LP
It gets said a lot, but it’s only in the moment when one actually hears the right sound at the right moment that they realize just how powerful it can be. It’s only in the right moment, for example, that a sound can make a listener’s blood boil or their skin crawl – or it can light your brain on fire and completely pervert your perception. Things like that don’t come around every day and it’s exciting when they do – but it is even more exciting when you can see it coming because, if you’re of the right mind, you’ll be able to recognize and welcome it. Skin Suit is just exactly that kind of album, and there’s no doubt that those of a particular mind will welcome the experience gleefully, when it comes on.
As stylus settles into groove on the A-side of Skin Suit, will get a moment to get comfortable as muffled sounds of the bandmembers set a perfect portrait of The Bobby Lees. Producer Jon Spencer (of Blues Explosion, Boss Hog and Pussy Galore fame) lets the tape run a little as the bandmembers talk among themselves, and it almost feels relaxing to hear – like those listening to the album are flies on the wall during a demo session. That sensation doesn’t last though. Almost without warning, listeners will get swatted with an incendiary blast of distorted guitar as well as the concussive caress from a set of drums which opens “Move,” split right down the middle by singer/guitarist Sam Quartin’s nervous/ecstatic vocal tone (comparable to a throatier Little Richard or a very angry and female incarnation of Jerry Lee Lewis – riding a meth high, in either case). The sound is absolutely spectacular and is guaranteed to hook listeners – or at least run over them repeatedly, in trying to hook them. The guitars supplied by Quartin and Nick Casa throw out sparks right next to the puddle of gasoline that is Kendall Wood’s almost sinister low end, all pushed ever-closer to the brink of explosion by Macky Bowman’s drums. The results are as unbelievable as they are incendiary; Quartin spends the duration of the song beckoning listeners closer and walking them into a series of aural sucker punches, but they won’t be put off. Even as the song ends, they’ll be looking for more.
As the A-side of Skin Suit continues, those won by “Move” will find that the play only gets richer and darker, as it progresses. “Coin” sees Quartin find some gorgeous and gothic angles on which to play both vocally and instrumentally (Jon Spencer’s fingerprints are all over the chicken pickin’ guitars and the ringing cymbals, but the real shine can be found in lines like, “I wanna die wit’ cha hand in mine,” which feels like the spiritual sibling to the albums which came from the original Fat Possum stable) while “Guttermilk” is all about the stringy, dirty and squalid stench of early Eighties Bowery (which, again, Spencer is very familiar with) before the confusing drum capture of “Riddle Daddy” causes a little focus to be lost from the side (no matter how often one listens to the song, it’s impossible to figure out if what one is hearing is reverb, delay, or just a doubled and out-of-sync drum performance) but then regained by the really mid-tone focused “Redroom” plays through and then “Ranch Baby” sees guitarist Nick Casa steal the mic to help with a pretty funereal and rambling exposition to close the side Really, Skin Suit could have played very well without “Ranch Baby” – with the instrumentation limited to a languid and drone-y keyboard performance along with Casa ‘s vocal, the cut is the definition of indulgent – but it is permissible because it somehow pushes the ecstatic vibe which dominates the side elsewhere; yes, it feels tacked on – but the ecstatic indulgence is a very fitting punctuation for the side.
The darkness and shadows on which the A-side of Skin Suit ended with “Ranch Baby”endure, but also find a far better tempo when “Wendy” just bleeds out of stereo speakers to open then album’s B-side. There, the hard-panned guitars and drums frame Quartin’s vocal and see the singer actually bouncing off those posts; the result feels enormous, but also two-dimensional – which is capable of sorely testing listeners’ patience. The going gets much better immediately as “Mary Jo” follows that opening and introduces a tighter production and form which is easily capable of answering the explosions on Skin Suit‘s A-side.
Easily the best and brightest cut on the B-side of Skin Suit is “Drive.” There, just as was the case on the A-side of the album, The Bobby Lees make the most of – and draw the greatest gains from – a noxious combination of fast tempos, driving rhythm and an absolutely propulsive beat, all crowned by Quartin’s hissing, scintillating vocals, which ultimately pushes the sound directly into the pleasure centre of every listener’s brain. “Drive,” like all the great moments on the A-side of Skin Suit, expresses the best of what The Bobby Lees can do and, because the song comes so close to the end of the B-side of the album, leaves a warm and thrilling impression which endures through “Russell” (which feels easily like it could be a co-write between the band and Jon Spencer) and the aptly-entitled balk which is “Last Song” until the proverbial needle lifts.
…And when that needle does lift, listeners who have run front-to-back with Skin Suit may feel exhausted (there’s no question that possibility exists – these eleven cuts are incredibly engaging and powerful, in that way) but they’ll also definitely be excited by the energy given off by the songs. There is definitely that kind of power and addictive electricity about it. Not only that, it will have listeners ready for more; this being The Bobby Lees’ first truly great album, there’s no easy way to know when the band will be able to produce a follow-up – but those who experience Skin Suit will definitely be lined up to find it. [Bill Adams]
Skin Suit is out now. Buy it here on Amazon.