Record Review: Skafish – Skafish DLX RM US CD [part 2]

2019 photo of Jim Skafish wearing "Skafish" t-shirt

Skafish today wearing the t-shirt that is waiting for you in his store…©2019 Glinda Harrison

[…continued from last post]

Following “We’ll See A Psychiatrist” it was time for something more placid sounding, though no less emotionally raw. “Romantic Lessons” was a doo-wop throwback about a guy who followed couples to learn how relationships happened. The singer spent a lot of time just telling the subjects of his observation that they had nothing to fear. Incredible. The song itself, was a loving slice of dreamy 1957 pop, sung beautifully by Jim Skafish, but when we scratch underneath the song’s [very] approachable surface we find the point of view of a scarred, lonely person striving to fit into this world that they did not make. I can’t remember when I ever heard such music coupled with sentiments like the ones here.

When the notion of reissuing albums with extra material became something 30+ years ago, I can remember the initial thought was to place anything extra between what would have been sides one and two of a carefully sequenced album. Skafish had returned to that notion with the non-LP B-side “Sink or Swim.” The metallic lowing of guitarist Ken Bronowski over bubbling synths and minimal bass set a tone very much like what Robert Fripp used on the early King Crimson as the atonal music meandered for 40 seconds before snapping to frantic attention with a breakneck proto-hardcore punk tempo that was laughingly exceeded by the amazing vocal of Skafish. He recited the disturbing lyrics robotically [save for the sung middle eight], without any emotion of inflection at a pace as fast as humanly possible over the jazzy, skittering drums of Larry Mislewiec. It sure didn’t sound like it was a varispeed recording manipulated mechanically in playback. It was thrilling and unique. I guarantee that you have never heard anything, before or since, that is anything remotely like “Sink Or Swim.”

“Finally born, just sink or swim
Get, get, get, get, get,
get away from me, baby
You”re on your own
Just sink or swim” – “Sink Or Swim”

The energetic “Work Song” was snappy New Wave with heroic synth lines courtesy of Javier Cruz, that signaled its ultimately compassionate, yet unflinching and questioning look at Joe Sixpack’s lot in life. From work to grave, was that all there was to be had? “Guardian Angel” was the third and final 50s pastiche the album had to offer here. Skafish played things straightforward on the piano with rhythmic triplets rolling everything along as he put his well trained voice to good use. This time the lyrics were much less unsettling than they had been on the earlier retro numbers. This was a song that could almost be taken at face value.

The other single here was “Disgracing The Family Name.” Could there be a more punk rock sentiment than this? The screaming organ leads of Cruz pointed back to garage punk but the vocal arrangement was much more sophisticated than the likes of The Seeds had delivered. And yet, the song’s lyric reveled in the havoc the singer’s mere existence wreaked on the surrounding family. It reflected an attitude that may not have been mature, but wow, was it gratifying.

“No Liberation Here” took a look at queer-bashing from a defiant victim’s perspective though there were hints of low self-esteem figuring into the dynamic as well. Interestingly enough, the song was set into a bluesy, slow-tempo tune that hinted at heavy metal even though the syndrum hits along with the acoustic drums were far outside the purview of that genre. As usual, Skafish mocked the notion of musical boundaries.

The defiance of “No Liberation Here” took a hard right turn into outright truculence on the climactic “Take It Out On You.” This was nothing less than Skafish’s own “Remake-Remodel” with lyrics of violent revenge as the fast paced number sported the best “licking an electric socket” wild synth solo this side of Eno. Then afterward, Skafish took an amphetamine-laced piano solo for several amazing bars before the song reicircled back to the verse structure and then flared out with the highest energy synth riff possible before the song’s explosive climax.

This was certainly a powerful and abrasive album, when it was not too busy being tender and romantic – even with lyrics that were full of torment. The young Skafish managed here to capture all of his angst over the cognitive dissonance between the ideals we’re indoctrinated with as children and the vast gulf that separates what reality dishes out to each and every one of us. So this album dove unflinchingly into the turmoil and heightened sensitivity that the downtrodden feel and reported back with its findings. And in doing so, the highly talented musicians involved here crossed lines and blended genres with reckless abandon and in the best post-modern fashion.

Now that this album has had its digital rebirth, the CDs, T-shirts, posters and various swag will be released on November 29th in the artist’s Bandcamp store. to anyone who missed the Kickstarter opportunity. The CD-res DL will be $10 with the CD a steal at $15. I wanted that T-shirt but it was bundled with the CD for the campaign, and money was tight then, but the notion of walking proudly with that powerful image on my chest compels me, so I may have to act on that impulse. The usual digital store will also have the album and it will even be streaming for those of an intangible persuasion.

But I cannot help but wonder what fate awaits the second Skafish album now that this one has been revived in the new century. The sophomore album, “Conversation,” is in my Record Cell. I bought it a few years ago with the notion of making my own CD back when the idea of any Skafish CD seemed impossibly remote. But the second album is one I’ve read disappointing reviews of. I.R.S. Records president Miles Copeland leaned heavily on Skafish to flatten out a lot of the fascinating wrinkles that made the art so compelling in a misguided bid for airplay. What got released was compromised, though I saw the video for “Wild Night Tonight” and liked the song a lot.

But this is 2019. What if Jim Skafish had recorded a second album called “I Might Move In Next Door” instead of “Conversation” that pushed the envelope further out than even this first album? What if I.R.S. outright rejected that album and compelled Skafish to straighten up and fly right? Well, it sure seems like this was the case, and we can hope that one day Skafish obtains the tapes to this abandoned album and sees it issued for the first time in the 21st century? A boy can dream.

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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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6 Responses to Record Review: Skafish – Skafish DLX RM US CD [part 2]

  1. SimonH says:

    It’s sad really that so many artists stick to fairly safe territory when it comes to lyrics. Tackling subjects like this is surely fertile territory, but takes guts because of the risk of provoking lazy outrage and misinterpretation. These are the fundamentals of existence surely?!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      SimonH – One of the big problems of Rock is that it is largely seen by many of its practitioners as a way of getting access to women! Or at the least public approval. The inadequacies of it as an art form fall from those flawed premise like dominoes. You certainly can’t lay those notions at the feet of an album like “Skafish.”


      • skafish says:

        postpunkmonk: thanks for your words and I agree with SimonH that you made good points! RE “access to women and approval!” Neither are so helpful if the artist’s intention is to break new ground and shatter existing soil!


    • skafish says:

      SimonH: I appreciate your insights about lyrics. To add to your list is the violent (literally) reactions I have received many times for what I was saying! It is all worth it to me!


      • SimonH says:

        I guess we can see that creating simple, unambiguous music with limited nuance is the route to riches! Thank you for not taking the easy path.


  2. SimonH says:

    Good point!


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