Are Abe Vigoda the foremost exponents of “tropical punk”, or are they just committing identity theft whilst sounding a bit like The Cardiacs? The trend of taking a famous person’s name and spinning it into a band name is clearly getting out of control. Dananananakroyd, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head are all fairly ridiculous. But Abe Vigoda?
The real Abe Vigoda is an elderly American-Jewish actor who appeared in The Godfather and whose fame is now mostly based on the persistent rumours of his death. True, he’s not exactly a superstar, but if he ever Googled himself, he’d be shocked to see that he was being touted as the new sound of LA punk.
Skeleton is the band’s third album, but the first licensed for UK consumption by Bella Union. Like the music of label founder Simon Raymonde’s earlier incarnation as one of The Cocteau Twins, there are touches of the ethereal with Abe Vigoda too, albeit crossed with a thrashy, lo-fi aesthetic. They describe themselves as “tropical punk”; it sounds unlikely but it’s a fair description.
Guitarists Juan Velazquez and Michael Vidal have a knack for making their guitars sound like distorted and chiming steel drums. Imagine Mission of Burma on a carnival float and you’ll start to get the picture. Songs like Bear Face also incorporate an Afrobeat sensibility, albeit in a much more interesting way than bands like Foals and Vampire Weekend have offered so far.
Their song structures are all pretty irreverent, preferring to flit between a series of grooves and patterns rather than simply rely on a predictable verse/chorus arrangement. It keeps things swift and blustery over the album’s 32 minutes. Like Animal Collective, their vocals are sung in unison and sound a bit like exotic chants, battling against the storm of wailing guitars. Gates could almost be a sea-shanty, were it one performed by Crass or… The Cardiacs.
My Bloody Valentine also get a look-in, with the extended one-note coda of Live-Long echoing MBV’s live “holocaust” version of You Made Me Realise. A trick they also share is to keep the vocals low and indistinct in the mix; something which helped make MBV iconic, but doesn’t work as well on Skeleton. The album is so abrasive at times, it’s hard to get a handle on it without lyrics to cling to.
They create a mood and atmosphere that’s certainly unique, but one in which very few songs stand out, despite some fine moments. Of these, Lantern Heights is pretty damn thrilling, sounding like Battles planting a flag on the summit of a previously unclimbed mountain. And the brief instrumental respite of Visi Rings, which leaves off the cacophonous drums, is equal parts terrific and terrifying.
Where Skeleton succeeds is in making you primed and panting to see Abe Vigoda live, something that Brits will have to wait until December for. And it may be that Abe Vigoda’s live show will make a slightly longer lasting impression than listening to Skeleton, accomplished and exciting though it is.