III is Eat Skull’s third album, and its first since 2009. Though it features, like the band’s previous efforts, a fair portion of largely unintelligible vocals and muddy-at-best production, it is far easier on the ear than anything they’ve released to date. On III, Portland’s Eat Skull plays nice, tempering the din and dissonance without losing an ounce of their hard-won shitgaze cred.
There is a quality about frontman Ron Enbom’s vocals that just bleeds raw authenticity. Delivering these strange strings of warped and worrisome words, he is a post noise-pop prognosticator, alluding occasionally to apocalyptic horrors while riffing with amicable angst through a rich lexicon of roadside observations. Eat Skull’s sonic and emotional palettes are extensive; they’re those kids, the ones giggling in the corner with the deluxe 120-color box of Crayolas with the built-in sharpener, while all the other kids have to get by with a 12-color box of generics.
Eat Skull doesn’t seem to be at all concerned with the listener, even as they come out of the red and into the relative light with III. This simple disregard seems to be part of what keeps the music sounding pure and real. The other edge of this sword is irritation. The annoyance resulting from the abundance of poorly produced vocals on this album is heightened by the knowledge that what we’re missing is probably well worth hearing. We are allowed by selective clarity to hear enough of the lyrics to want to hear all of them.
III proves a feral animal, somewhat resistant to categorization as well as description. The band is able to hop quickly from one intricate sonic zone to the next without losing focus or momentum. The surprises and variety of III, though they make for an eclectic listen, do not seem at all like random decisions. Each song on the album seems to carry the same weight, and one gets the sense that completely reordering the tracks would do little to alter the feel or impact of the entirety. In III, shoddy field recordings, dirty blown out guitar fuzz, brooding and gurgling synth drones, and homespun, kitchen-based percussion all serve the totality of the album while simultaneously being consumed by it.
Like much compelling writing, the songs that comprise III don’t always reveal their subjects on first, second or third reading. Some of them never will. But the language itself (in this case both lyrically and musically) is enough to keep the audience absolutely present in this amiably haunted though evidently doomed landscape. The mood bounces from the jovial (driving the car home when the fun is gone) to the grotesque (watching dead horses decompose) to the hilariously macabre (cutting the head off a seagull on the beach after which it starts speaking with considerable and portentous gravity). Though III is a sly creeper of an album that recoils from easy capture, it is well positioned to become this year’s summer-defining jam for the more intellectually inclined consumer.