By Ashley Zimmerman
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There are two options for the writer who takes on the daunting task of profiling Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys: Spend 800 words, make several trips to the thesaurus, and heap on arcane musical references struggling to describe the band's sound. Or hang up the hyphens and simply call this enigmatic collective of Oberlin grads crafting intriguing, enigmatic electro-pop in a Queens basement a bunch of weirdos.
"I don't really think our music is weird," says point man Matt Mehlan, "but that might just make me weird." What started out as Mehlan's bedroom electronica musings as Skeletons has, over the past few years, evolved into a collaboration with the four Girl-Faced Boys, who bring a trick bag of digitally affected instruments and share Mehlan's off-kilter approach to composition.
Last year's Git, the group's third album and first on edgy indie Ghostly International, is the kind of work that can drown writers and listeners in its uniqueness. Landing the occasional, undeniable hook but descending into extended, hazy abstraction, Git hopscotches boldly across pop and avant garde with creepy, cozy, ethereal synths and indiscernible atmospherics. Mehlan's FM-lite falsetto is as rich and white as a Republican but conveys the same kind of leisure-suit soul as Steely Dan. The band, meanwhile, twists, glitches, and twitches into stark, warm melodies and Prefuse-esque digital beats. It's challenging, playful, and often beautiful stuff. And it's not a little weird.
"Math-rock dudes or whatever get a bad rap," Mehlan counters. "A lot of people think they're making their songs difficult. That's why its called math rock that's not necessarily a positive in a lot of people's minds. But what people don't think about is that like 90 percent of all popular music in the past 50 years longer than that is in 4/4 time signature. And the fact that in the past 50 years like 99.997 percent is in the normal tuning system of a guitar or piano. So it's weird that it's weird to move out of that."
If it sounds like Mehlan might be leveling a bead on the predictability of mainstream music, that's because he is. Sort of.
"It's more organic than that," he says of Skeletons' experimental approach. "Probably more than that, there's a sense of 'OK, this reminds me too much of something that I know already.' So if you do that, you're like, 'I want to do that because I want that feeling' or 'I don't want to do that because that's too familiar to me. '"
And while so much modern music refuses to stray from formula be it pop or indie Mehlan believes that both have the potential to consistently tread new ground.
"Think about the Beatles, the biggest band in the universe they stopped touring so they could experiment in the studio," he says. "If you listen to 'Tomorrow Never Knows,' that track, that's some serious experimentation with a pop song... People get very caught up on the styles and the scenes and whatever their universe becomes. And so if they decide they like a certain type of quote 'indie rock' or whatever, if they hear something that's too poppy or like if it has a synthesizer in it, that's a realm that's too outside what they want."
Willfully experimental music might earn the label of "important," but it also tends to bore thanks to a distinct lack of fun. Who wants importance when you just want a groove? "I don't think you should have one without the other," Mehlan says. "There's a need for both always. The saddest people are the people that take their sadness so seriously that it overwhelms them. I think it's a lot sweeter to be able to laugh at the saddest things in your life than it is to wallow in them." Which is why on Git and onstage, Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys offer a good time and a good mindfuck.
"When we go on tour, the songs are just the starting point, the reference point for something," Mehlan says. "That way, we can write a new song without writing a new song. We structure them in a way where we do have space to improvise and force things to work out in new ways. None of us have been interested in having just guitar, bass, drums on the stage and playing a song through and then being done. We like to have something to let ourselves do to keep it interesting for us and to keep it interesting for people."
So if there was a rallying cry, an over-arching mission for the band, maybe that would be: Do something important, but keep it interesting.
"I think that Git was really important to me, and I want it to be important to other people," Mehlan says. "People don't make important records, really. You know there's very few records every year that are even considered within the spectrum of noticeability. You either make a record that's one of the top ten of the year or nobody knows about it. I want to just keep making important records for myself and keep moving forward and not repeat myself and not be arbitrary. The last thing I wanna do is keep putting out the same record until I'm 50 or whatever. But my goal right now is to keep putting out a record every year, until I have no more brain matter for it."