The Skull Practitioners Hit Queens With Their Most Savagely Tuneful Album in Tow
Nobody plays guitar with as much distinctively feral intensity as Jason Victor. He’ll hang a chord over the edge of a familiar resolution until it bleeds and screams to be pulled back from the abyss, or slash his way through the passing tones like a Sandinista chasing a World Bank operative through the sugarcane. He’s best known for his work as Steve Wynn‘s sparring partner in the Dream Syndicate as well as Wynn’s band the Miracle 3. But Victor is also a bandleader in his own right, and has slowly built an equally savage body of work as frontman of the Skull Practitioners. While you can hear elements of the Stooges, the Gun Club and maybe the Chrome Cranks in his music, there is no band who sound like them. Their new album Negative Stars is streaming at youtube. They’re opening the best twinbill of the year so far on Feb 4 at 8 PM, with Jon Spencer & the Hitmakers headlining at a new venue, TV Eye, at 1647 Weirfield St. between Wyckoff and Cypress in Ridgewood. Cover is $20; take the J/M to Myrtle-Wyckoff and walk about eight blocks.
The album’s first number is Dedication, Victor buzzing and growling over the loose-limbed attack of drummer Alex Baker while bassist Kenneth Levine booms lithely behind them. There’s a bridge that’s part Sonics Rendezvous Band, part Live Skull. All that in about five and half minutes.
Track two is Exit Wounds, a catchy, hard-riffing post-Stooges number propelled by Baker’s staggered stomp: when Levine takes a climb up the scale behind Victor’s acidically floating lines, it could be Radio Birdman. For that matter, so could LEAP, where Victor blends in a more 90s-flavored, acidic, Polvo-style edge.
Hypnotic fuzz guitar and a suspenseful, mutedly echoey syncopation kick off the album’s big epic, Intruder, a mashup of uneasy surf rock, the Dream Syndicate, and the Lords of the New Church (let Victor’s vocals sink in for a minute). “We start apart and we finish alone,” Victor snarls.
Levine gets his fuzz going in What Now, Victor bending his chords and firing off one of his signature, unhinged solos that ends in a flurry of machete-chops. He builds a loopy noir atmosphere and then an increasingly desperate, bittersweet drive as the band rise into a brisk new wave groove in the album’s lone instrumental, Fire Drill.
In the next track, Ventilation, the band work a warped, ominously galloping southwestern gothic take on the Dream Syndicate. The album’s final cut is Nelson D – a reference to former New York Governor, pathological racist and deep state operative Nelson Rockefeller, maybe? Victor howls and wails, building a volcanic interweave with a few finely sharpened, dueling layers over the rhythm section’s ineluctable drive toward chaos. Having picked Steve Ulrich’s eerie Music From This American Life as the frontrunner for best album of 2023, this one’s a contender too.