Blackout Beach's Skin of Evil is one of my favorite albums of the year; it has personality. I love things with personality. Sometimes people use the term as short-hand for "filled, to a fault, with quirks," but that's not what I mean. I just mean, there isn't much out there that sounds like this; the first comparison I think of is Suicide, only less frenetic and more organic. But that's just the beginning. Skin of Evil has lots of looks, and musically, they're all winners. I'm especially partial to the grand karaoke choral groove of "Nineteen, One God, One Dull Star" & how it codas out into a more despairing version of Youssou N'Dour at the end of "In Your Eyes," but that's just one moment. The album is tremendous and does not skimp on its peaks.
The one thing about it is the concept around which its beautifully-crafted lyrics turn. I'm not sure about it. I'm not sure how I feel about a heroine named Donna who is worshipped and feared by all the men in her life. Or, rather: I am sure how I feel about the attribution of mystical siren-like powers to a woman in a story. I feel suspicious.
I'm pretty sure all the political stuff I feel suspicious about is also in Mercer's mind as he writes - the few real glimpses we get of Donna seem more human than the version of her we otherwise get from the album's narrating voices, who elevate her to the status of a cartoon god. "We quickly came to love her/but I most of all came to love her," one boasts, and to my ear this sounds like Mercer calling bullshit on the narrator. Is it? One hopes. Sue me: I'm a hand-wringer by nature, and I hate to think of indie dudes getting further encouragement for the idea that it's somehow romantic to wear your essentializing obsessions on your sleeve.
Still, I wouldn't bother to say anything if it weren't an album-of-the-year candidate, which it is. Each listen peels back another layer and finds something even shinier beneath. Find it, listen to it, give it the close attention it deserves. Reflect on its characters, but scrutinize their motives, and ask yourself whether what they feel is love - is it? Or is it rather the reflection of their own faces, which is a building, which is on fire? I suspect yes, in the end. I hope these characters, before they evaporate, share my suspicions.
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