A Brief, Unhinged Masterpiece from the Skull Practitioners

by delarue

Jason Victor is the best lead guitarist/sparring partner Steve Wynn‘s ever had. That’s high praise, considering Karl Precoda’s unhinged work in Wynn’s iconic 80s band the Dream Syndicate. Then there’s Chris Brokaw, whose uneasy riffage in the early days of Wynn’s Miracle 3 band was probably the most menacingly gorgeous that group’s ever had. And let’s not forget Rich Gilbert’s similarly paint-peeling playing in Wynn’s sinister, ferocious mid-90s band. But Victor stands alone as a master of both noise and tunefulness, shifting gears in a split second from savage to beautifully terse. For a taste of some of the wildest guitar jams ever attempted, let alone recorded, check out Wynn’s archive.org channel – you can get lost there for days.

But Victor also plays in other bands. There was an adrenalizing, sludgy unit called DBCR who recorded an ep a couple of years ago that you should hear if noise is your thing. What’s even better is ST1, the awesome ep by the Skull Practitioners, Victor’s band with Kenneth Levine and Alex Baker, which is also up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download (although what you really should own is the cassette recording – you have a boombox, right?). It’s as good as the best side on the Stooges’ Metallic KO.

This ep is so beautifully evil and assaultive and catchy despite itself that there’s really nothing that compares with it this year other than G.W. Sok’s album with Action Beat, and this is more tuneful. The first track evokes both Daydream Nation era Sonic Youth and 80s noiserock legends Live Skull, with desperate vocals from Ana Barie: “I’ll bring it down” is the mantra that she hits after every litany of doomed imagery. Victor hits a haphazard raga-ish solo that eventually echoes itself to death, then a vicious, Blue Oyster Cult-style progression as Barie wails to the end.

The second track, Nelson D (a reference to the New York Governor responsible for the state’s paleoconservative drug laws, maybe?) sounds like Arthur Lee on crank, an endless series of whistling, whirring, toxic guitar lines sputtering and chopping through riff-rock and then dreampop interludes: the Steve Wynn influence is everywhere. Foreign Wives is sort of their Psychotic Reaction: spiky icepick intro, sarcastically wailing guitar leads, brisk new wave beat. The final track is the longest, with an out-of-focus vocal from Tom Derwent, long drones, allusions to funk, sick bent-note mental asylum screams from the guitars going on for what seems minutes and an ending that the band finally allows to completely disintegrate – considering how tight they’ve kept everything this far, they’ve earned it. Crank this up whenever: getting up for work, coming home furious after a bad day at work, smoking up, it’ll hit the spot.