Skeletons continue reaping critical praise for new album “Money”

NYC’s Skeletons BAND will be undertaking an extensive European tour in celebration of the release of their latest album MONEY. having recently completed an exhaustive U.S. tour. MONEY was invented by the Skeletons BAND: Jon Leland, Tony Lowe, Jason McMahon and Matt Mehlan and was released by Tomlab at the end of Fall ’08. 

Already up so early in the morning of 2008, Skeletons were hibernating in the safest, quietest, warmest place in the world: Times Square, New York. In a haunted WWII-era ballroom they recorded through the wintry nights when the studio was on fire. Taking breaks at 5am, standing under heat lamps listening to Hot Jass outside the Time Warp Hotel, soaking up the the empty streets with the leftover creeps while the tourists sleep. It’s just the same struggle any old human has to go through to make anything: make it to work on time, make an excuse, make babies, make war, make breakfast without getting into a fight. The child of this struggle is MONEY.


Skeletons are one of the few contemporary bands that can legitimately be called “original.” Led by Matt Mehlan, the New York quartet has wrangled a distinctive mélange of leftfield influences into un-purist jolts of sonic dazzlement. A mere list of Skeletons’ stylistic tropes-No Wave, free jazz, Afrobeat, post-punk, high life, the artiest art rock-doesn’t do justice to the wallop of exciting newness that each track on Money delivers. Mehlan and Co. have synthesized some of the most sublime fringe-music tics into novel expressions of artistry. Their formal innovation combines with emotional heft-Mehlan’s voice is a supple, subtle instrument of deep feeling-to forge an unforgettable listen that seems destined to improve over time. Just don’t expect to tidily classify it. David Segal/XLR8R January

Ask people about their least favorite sounds and a lot of folks, particularly those of us in highway-stretched cities like Los Angeles, will be drawn to the road:  the sickening screech of tires before a collision or the wail of car horns in the midst of gridlock.  Never one to take the path of least resistance to their listener’s hearts, Matt Mehlan and Skeletons begin their latest album with an extensive dose of the latter.  Given Mehlan’s eclectic track record, he wouldn’t have been a likely contender to make a “document o’ the times,” but Money – in its own bizarre, sometimes exhilarating and sometimes off-putting way – winds up with a lot to say about where the world stands in 2009.  It buzzes with hope and squeals with nervous, unfocused energy.  It’s a hit and it’s a headache.  And at the heart of it – somewhere – is a parable of scraping by while shaking the chains that society casts on everyone.  Or something like that.  Maybe.

After the car horn chorus subsides, Money cashes in one of its strongest tracks:  “The THINGS.”  “Why would I want to know these things?” Mehlan asks in a controlled panic.  The music whirs and bumps beneath him, a chug-a-lug collision of instruments and rhythms.  Given the way in which the album started, it’s easy to imagine the protagonist jumping the fence and having an Into the Wild moment.  But two songs later, Mehlan is singing “I’m gonna get paid enough to survive,” sounding resigned and relieved and smug all at the same time.  It’s an example of how he gets the most out of his airy, otherwise somewhat anonymous vocal style.  Musically, meanwhile, Skeletons settle into a groove on the track (“STEPPER a.k.a. Work”).  It’s like “Chain Gang” or “9 to 5” for the digital age.

Before long, Money explodes into the manic (and aptly titled) “BOOOM! (Money)”, a dense piece of noisemaking that stretches on for over 11 minutes, alternately sounding inspired and exhilarating. and then like a wanky jazz jam session into nowhere.  Whether it blows minds or turns stomachs is in the ear of the beholder.

Interludes like “Dripper” and “Lullaby” add to the story arc but don’t do much as stand-alone pieces.  “The Masks” again strikes a more reflective chord, and shows Skeletons again arriving at the intersection of accessibility and avant-garde.  For the third time in as many tries, Mehlan and Skeletons have made an album that inhabits its own curious world.  No small feat.  This time around, it tells us a little about the world we already know, too. Adam McKibbin/ 1/8/09

Skeletons are a puzzle. They’ve put out five albums of utterly unique and original music. They’re absurdly talented. And yet, they continue to toil in nearly thankless obscurity. In a single track, the band (whose mutating lineup, anchored around Matt Mehlan, often feels like it must include multitudes, mobs, maybe an army) will jam through afrobeat horns, bossa nova guitar, kooky indie pop and Prince-esque synth funk before spiraling off into free-jazz-inspired improvisations that will occasionally border on either prog wankery or unadulterated noise. When they’re on, though, the payoff is so huge, and at all times the band seems to be having an obscene amount of fun. At bottom, they’re a dance band. There are no breaks between songs, so every Skeletons album is like a brief section of an infinite jam. In a way, it doesn’t even matter if anyone’s listening. Saelan Trewdy/Color Winter 08

New York City experimental weirdoes Skeletons are touring in support of their third full length Money. Chiming guitars, thumps and minor key mantras subtly percolate for this beautifully haunted dirge of warped virtuosity. Chad Radford Creative Loafing (Atlanta) 11/12

The Skeletons have been bringing their experimental. dance pop, sounds to listeners ears over the past couple of years through their past efforts “Git” and “Lucas,” but with “Money” they bring everything you think you know about them to a whole new level. This is not your average music by any stretch of the imagination. One thing you notice right away is that this is not the slick, polished, production like so many other countless albums out there have attached to them right now, but rather is an album that was recorded live which for technical people out there means this wasn’t easily mixed together to bring out each instruments sound to it’s fullest, but rather it is what it is and you get what you get. The music is a bit more artsy and offers drum beats and rhythms that have you moving but aren’t exactly the norm, but are just a beat or two off from the vocals surrounding them making for an odd sound that captures your attention but at the same time confuses you and never truly let’s you know what to expect. Album opener “Fill My Pockets Full” uses the honking car horns from the city streets to provide a rhythm to the song, while tracks like “Stepper aka Work” use and odd arrangement of instruments to let a relatable lyric be the main focus of the song. “Money” is the Skeletons being more ambitious and more experimental than they have been in the past and is not a disc for everyone. However, there is something to be said about a band not following the trends and being able to use their creativity to create a solid album that is unique in comparison to all of the other bands out there and that is what The Skeletons have accomplished here. Jeffrey Kurtis/

Money is, unequivocally, the most important release from the tail end of 2008. The Skeletons’ tightrope walk between vanguard profundity and sugary pop sensibility is a dazzling accomplishment. Perched somewhere between Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jams and Dirty Projector’s Rise Above, it trumps them both. Alex Mallory / 12/6

Though they formed in Ohio, The Skeletons found their way to New York where they have been creating an underground buzz. Their latest effort, “Money” is out now, their live show has been attracting a great amount of attention, and they have created an outlet for a behind the scenes look at their band called Skeletons TV. We caught up with Skeletons founding member Matt Mehlan to discuss all of this and more. 1. After forming in Ohio and a couple releases you made your way to New York for a change of pace. What prompted that move in your careers and how has it benefited you the most?

I don’t really know why we all ended up in New York… The benefit is the people here, we’ve met some of the best people – sometimes meeting them in other cities and countries and finding out they live nearby. Others are people from work and friends we’ve had for a long time who also ended up here. And there’s always people on the street whose faces you get to see, mostly new ones every day on the way to work no matter how concrete your routine. New York can feel infinite, which is exciting and depressing and overwhelming and wonderful all at the same time. Which is why I’m still here.

2. You’ve created a strong following thus far with your previous albums and live shows. What similarities and differences will your longtime followers find on your latest effort, “Money” (due out Nov 4) in comparison to your previous releases?

Money is a bit of a different beast in certain ways – but we’ve never had any pressure to do one specific thing – which means each record will be it’s own thing, hopefully NEW thing. We just try to make songs that are honest and music that is true to us. I think anyone that likes one of our records will like all of them.

3. You decided on “Money” to not only perform the songs, but also to engineer, arrange, and mix, the album as well. How did having that much control over the recording benefit you the most that having an outside person involved would not have?

We’ve actually done this on all of our records. We would love to find someone we could trust and collaborate with, but so far every record has been a struggle to make… getting the proper amount of time a record needs – let alone money for studio time or paying anyone. And anyway: there’s two of us in the band now who’ve worked, trained, studied in the aaaaart of SOUND – so we are very particular about the way things should be done, the way things should sound, and of course THE VIBE.

4. Which one song from “Money” do you think best defines the overall sound of the album and why?

I think BOOOM is likely the song people will skip the most – hehe cough – which is also the reason why I think it’s probably the most powerful and of THIS particular TIME for us. It’s uncompromising and completely full of that tension that rises and falls throughout the rest of the record, which is why it’s right in the middle.

5. With a lot of independent success behind you have any major labels started to spark an interest in singing you?

I’m not really sure how to answer this one. I guess if you think about the country right now, like “THE ECONOMY” as we hear and talk about it, it’s relatively similar. People are so freaked out about whatever: MONEY, GAS, FOOD, “THE ECONOMY” that we’re not buying toasters or blenders or washing machines or whatever right? So likewise, any time any interest comes through about our music by a label or label person it’s very tentative. Maybe you think the washing machine that also adds tassles to all of your clothing is super cool… then “hmmm maybe the old one is still OK… I mean ‘THE ECONOMY’ being what it is you know”!

6. Which one thing would a major deal have to include before you would even consider signing on the dotted line?

Produced by Kanye West and Quincy Jones, a duet with Stevie Wonder, a drum solo by Ringo, string and horn parts arranged by Ornette Coleman and Becker/Fagan, background vocals by Erykah Badu and Beyonce, sax solos by Evan Parker, some spoken word bridge with Bob Dylan or the low voice from Boyz 2 Men, Caetano Veloso doing anything, every sample library ever, engineers in white lab coats, 5 years of studio time with nothing else to do. Basically it’d be like that one Santana record.

7. What does your live shows offer to someone that just spinning your album doesn’t?

The live show is always changing – which unfortunately records can’t do (yet…) – we rearrange songs over and over to try and keep them fresh in some way. It’s looser, more visceral, louder, different. Live shows just aren’t records… I probably don’t need to explain this but it used to be that “records” were that – a “record” of what the band sounds like in a room. For us and so so many other bands this is ridiculous. Remember the Beatles? They quit playing shows and started making “albums”. Once an “album” (in the sense that it’s a contained work of aaaaart) starts being made, the possibilities are endless and, in my opinion, as many possibilities as you can muster should be explored. So for these types of bands somewhere along the line people started expecting live shows to be a representation of the “album” – reversing the entire concept in a way. This to me is totally uninteresting. Live music is a special special thing. If you’re too concerned with the “object” of a song, you’re loosing the ability to hear that special special thing that live music brings. Otherwise you’re looking for that karaoke style show, and hopefully the band you’re seeing is really good at karaoke… (on a side note: Did you see Kanye West on Conan or Letterman and SNL? On one of em he had a drum line in glowing tribal getups and his voice was perfectly auto-tuned – that was some killer shit! On SNL his auto-tune wasn’t working so then all over the internet everyone’s like “Kanye can’t sing!” but it’s like “Really?!! That’s the important part?” – dude totally still gave it his all, and despite all the bullshit in his vibe he’s TRYING to do something REAL… anyway…) For us, some songs work live and some don’t. Sometimes the show is not what you expect. Sometimes I hope it makes your brain hurt. Sometimes your ears. Sometimes it’s that special special thing. I never really know, I just try to push myself and the band to give each show all of the energy we have. We never guarantee you’ll hear the song you like the most, but we try to guarantee that we will give you all of our selves. If you don’t have an open mind, well…

8. You recently completed your first tour of the UK and Europe. How did the scenes you encountered overseas compare and contrast to those in the states?

Like feeding and paying the bands and finding them a place to stay! Imagine that! The weird part about it is that this occurs in all the different kinds of venues you can imagine: DIY squats, scene-y clubs, old school dives, everywhere. This isn’t 100% true, but close to it. For bands who are still relatively under the radar or starting out or whatever – here in the states (and the UK too really) – the club/bar scene will always give them the shortest possible end of the stick. Because people who make music do it because they love making music, we’ll take that shit. We will take 20% of the door while the bar makes a shit ton of money and pay for our own drinks because if we don’t we might have no shows in between two cities that are 800 miles apart. But there seems to be a little more respect for musicians: just as working, real, humans that isn’t tied to the fad/web/cool spectrum of acceptance there in Europe from the get go. This also exists here in the US at DIY spaces, where people are setting up shows because they love music and they like people. Also, the cities are all closer together in Europe.

9. You have also created Skeletons Television, an internet based program. For people that are unaware of this, can you tell them what it is all about and where they can find it on the web? — This is just an outlet for all the hours of video tape we shoot while on tours or in the city or making aaaaart. I wanted to have a HUB where all types of the things we do could be listened to and watched and downloaded for free without blinking advertisements for depression/penis pills. I also wanted to make something that could exist as a different kind of “band website” or “live videos” or “tour footage”… Where it was less about the posturing of band life and more about the places we have been lucky enough to see, and partially as an outlet for that difference in LIVE us VS. ALBUM us.

10. What advice can you offer to someone that is looking to break into the music industry?

Make music because you love making music. Jeffrey Kurtis/ 1/7

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