Insistent sirens and lumbering swathes of traffic noise announce record number two by reformed noise rockers Live Skull. The musical equivalent of discarded Super 8 footage of early ’80s New York, a city morally bankrupt but creativity rich, opening number In A Perfect World roars past in a blur and its shabby guitars summon grainy mental images of burnt out tenements, flick knives glistening in the moonlight, sticky subterranean nightclubs and graffiti tagged subway cars, whilst Mark C’s murky ominous vocal delivery is like having your neck tickled by some grubby street bum’s beard as he mumbles cantankerous obscenities in your ear. It’s music for when anxiety and paranoia overcome you, for when you find yourself looking over your shoulder to see which menace is following you.
The remake of Debbie’s Headache from their 1987 release Dusted is custom crafted for the new New York. The feeling of pollution and hopelessness that suffocated the original has been cleared up; the dark echoes that emanated from the lyrics have been steam blasted and the feedback sunken in the mix. In its place is something louder, crisper, more direct. Track three Day One Of The Experiment is built on a muddy baseline that shares six degrees of separation with Stiltskin’s grungy Inside. It’s redeemed from further humiliation by C’s gothic Lux Interior snarl. On Dispatches they continue that sleazy Machiavellian streak and guitarist Dave Hollinghurst grafts crooked Gang Of Four riffs over deliciously smacked out Exotica flecked drums, courtesy of long time band member Richard Hutchins.
The second half of the record is built around outtakes, B-sides and four previously unavailable tracks recorded as a Peel Session back in 1989, shortly before they disbanded. Their reasoning for the split at the time had been frustration at not getting the same acclaim and monetary reciprocation as Sonic Youth and Swans, the two bands who they regularly played alongside and were frequently compared to. Whilst Sonic Youth slowly drifted away from their angular beginnings, getting ever artier and redefining themselves as some Beat Punk version of The Grateful Dead, and Swans followed suit in becoming more akin to post rock than their noise roots, Live Skull remained defiantly abrasive their entire short sharp lifetime.
The grimy Peel Session tracks highlights second singer Thalia Zedek’s distinctive hardcore inspired rasp and in your face attitude. Zedek, who went on to perform in the successful indie band Come, gracefully agreed to participate on their fantastic Saturday Night Massacre album last year and her influence is everywhere on this record. The rock history books have not been as generous to Live Skull as to their contemporaries, but with luck this crazy melodic record will go some way to restoring them as kings and queens of the urban jungle.