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The Skull Defekts: Peer Amid

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The Skull Defekts

Peer Amid

Thrill Jockey

Rejoice: Daniel Higgs is making rock music again. Not with Lungfish, with Sweden’s Skull Defekts, known well enough in the weirdo underground for dark-side drones, noise-rock, and heavy not-quite-metal sludge. If it’s a permanent thing or not is uncertain but Higgs is billed on this Thrill Jockey debut, out just in time for bruise-colored snow and tar-black melt-runoff. Which is fantastic: Higgs and the Skull Defekts are cult-rock peas and carrots.

It’s fascinating watching Higgs slip into different contexts, how easily and naturally it happens for a musical personality that might appear monolithic, or at least not all that pliable. If it’s chanting along to space-alien noise/sound-collage with Twig Harper or his own bellows harmonium drone or delivering rock mantras with Lungfish, it’s a voice that comes out feeling like it’s carving directly into its context like a chisel into stone. Which makes Peer Amid such a strange record: Here he is not being a melodic counterpoint, but so often merely accompaniment, not some huge force-of-nature frontman but an equal member of a band—and on a record that treads damn near to garage rock, a record with full-on riffs and big instrumental breakdowns. That the album sounds so of this moment makes the collaboration feel even more out there.

Higgs does get a chance to be his shaman self, however. “Gospel of the Skull” has him singing in that back-of-the-throat chant-song and even straight-up chant—which comes into play a couple of other times too—placing himself more in the music’s in-between spaces than fully within it. Or on the eight-minute “In Majestic Drag,” he’s barely even there, the backup voice to a melting, bubbling psych dirge. It’s the title track where everything comes together perfectly: loose noisy guitar over this low sprint of a drumbeat and electronic texture verging on skronk. It’s an uneasy, delirious race between Higgs’ god-voice, mid-period Sonic Youth noise-rock, and post-noise. There’s life past legacy, and then some.

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