By Kelsey Simpkins (The Aural Premonition)
There’s a live music renaissance happening in Saint Paul this year, and I’m finding more reasons than just the new breweries to spend an evening downtown, at Bedlam Lowertown, Public Kitchen and Bar, or Amsterdam Bar and Hall. There are also more Saint Paul-based bands than ever releasing great albums, although it’s still assumed a runner-up to Minneapolis in terms of musical capacity. So for a band that identifies with the outsiders in the world, Saint Paul makes a perfect home for folk-rock group Skittish, who just released their latest album, Two Legs Bad, on September 15, 2015.
The project initially of Jeff Noller (vocals, guitar), Skittish was developed in tandem with Brianna Tagg (vocals, keys), after his college band ran its course. Tagg’s talents as a classically trained pianist and vocalist lend a beautiful and badass element to the mix, with Noller’s rough and tumble guitar and well-paired vocals “share the weight,” as they proclaim in “Baggage.” Lazarus Ulysses Clearwater (Bass) and Jeremy Krueth (Drums) came into the fold from their experiences playing throughout the Midwest, to make the full line-up of Skittish.
Self-described as “idiosyncratic” and “eclectic,” the music that Skittish makes has bite. On the edge of folk and gypsy rock, Two Legs Bad is rooted securely in rock, and at times, heavy on the alternative. This recipe of many related genres compiled into one makes for a most delicious listen. The finished product shared on this release contains nine well-conceived, composed, and diverse songs: high quality and distinct, all of them.
“Regarding the Wolf” starts the album running out of the gate, with a spirit of wild abandon and a desire to rock out. Catchy guitar riffs and tongue-twisting lyrics make it a defining tune, a standout on the release, full of energy and spunk. A fantastic choice for initiation into the Skittish sound. Off its heels is “Shot In The Dark,” which highlights Tagg’s eloquent, yet brash, vocals with melodies that twist and turn just enough to show off her flexibility. All while claiming she’s “just trying to not to f*** it all up.”
It isn’t until “House Cats” that things get weird, or the elements of folk-rock truly come into play. I’m tempted to call it gypsy-rock, except it remains a coherent composition, with undercurrents of a rock beat instead of a rolling brawl that’s lost all cohesion. But with cries of “Grab your pitchforks! Light up your torch!” I’m not sure they’re not headed for a medieval protest.
“Roots” is positively indie rock; a spunky and dancey tune with legs. Incorporating poppy guitar lines and thoughtful lyrics, Tagg opens with a brilliant line: “Lately I’m loving being someone who cares.” It’s fully her song, and she owns it. Noller joins her again on “Baggage,” as so does the uneven gypsy-rock feel. Then in “Swim Away, Little Fish,” some playful choices in effects lead to a haunting, almost symphonic feel, reminiscent of Radiohead or Other Lives. Noller croons about a parting of ways, a personal element along with philosophical wanderings that pervade the album.
Finally in “Meet Your Maker,” Tagg takes us home, fully accepting the idiosyncratic sound learned throughout a through listen. Yet this time, an ethereal edge on the production makes for a mystical carousel ride, on which she requests, “save a window seat for me.” In a chorus with herself, Tagg knows how to throw a party in the middle of a song, and still call for an emotional pull by the end.
Two Legs Bad is more than a line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm: it’s a daring, multi-genre exploration of what these four musicians could create together in the course of 35 minutes. It’s a wild ride. It barks, it howls, and it purrs. It’s a fully functioning ecosystem of sound. And you can hear Skittish perform it live, at their release show on October 2, 2015 at The Pourhouse in Minneapolis.