Reviews The Lawrence Arms Skeleton Coast

The Lawrence Arms

Skeleton Coast

When a band is releasing its third new record since 2006, you’d expect some inconsistency. The Lawrence Arms seem to be timeless though. With Skeleton Coast they pick right up where they left off Metropole (2014). Take the opening stanza of “Dead Man’s Coat” as an example. Beginning with Chris McCaughan’s soft and wanting melodies, it’s unmistakably The Lawrence Arms. It feels warm and familiar, but with new melodic twists. It also maintains his well-established dark tones that give a melodramatic flair in contrast to that soothing delivery. It sounds like a fully active band, fully in sync. While the lyrical themes have changed with age, this is clearly the same band that put The Greatest Story Ever Told at the start of the century.

On record number seven I’m also struggling to review this because of its consistency. It’s good. It’s exactly what I expect of them. The melodic flow and back-and-forth dualling vocalists is entrenched at this point, which also makes it harder to jump out of the speaker at me. There are certainly standouts on here: “Belly of the Whale” and “Ghostwriter” are just a couple that pop out, but it’s also a record that will take some quality quarantine time for the lyrics to fully connect. It’s catchy on the surface, but (I hate it when others use this description) highly literate. There are dense, recurring themes that take time to absorb.

“Planes Trains and Automobiles” utilizes that great back and forth vocal style the band embraces on recent albums, with contrasting but complementary delivers, but for the most part I’d say Skeleton Coast is more “classic” TLA in using co-vocalists with a different lead on each song, rather than the call-and-response method.

“Belly of the Whale” is a super catchy Kelly-fronted piece that merges his penchant for metaphor with a sing-song smoothness. “Last Last Words,” fronted by McCaughan, is right in the middle of the record and sticks with you in a big way. The drama of “Last Last Words” prior to the direct and forceful “Demon” makes both songs better. “Ghostwriter” is a song that fits the catalog so perfectly you’d swear you know it on first listen, other than those new “woo-ooo” backing vocals. Which ties nicely to one of the strengths of Skeleton Coast: this record has many perfect, subtle harmonies, including shortly after the “woo,” and on prominent display in closing song, “Coyote Crown.” Over time, the band has traded songs, then verses, and now they come together as one. I’ll add that the sequencing here is carefully thought out in a way that’s rare in 2020.

In comparing Skeleton Coast to the band’s previous work, this record fits right in the middle. Generalizing, it’s more focused on melody and insight than urgency or aggression. It’s pop-structured, heart-on-sleeve, singalong music with a jaded but mature perspective. Skeleton Coast shows that despite miles between the band members’ current homes, years between albums, and now decades of writing songs together, they can consistently deliver songs that cover the full emotional spectrum without feeling overblown or heavy-handed. At times this record is extremely depressed, then at others it brims with told-ya-so sarcasm and even hints of joy. It’s the same band I kind of liked on Ghost Stories, the band I loved on Apathy & Exhaustion and the band that’s matured and refined their approach ever since.

8.0 / 10Loren
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Epitaph

2020

8.0 / 10

8.0 / 10

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