For most music connoisseurs, there is an infinite number of rabbit holes and musical movements from New York City that one will be compelled to explore. One node currently rising to the fore is the work of legendary producer Martin Bisi and many of the acts that circulated in and out of his orbit. One such act is the noise rock powerhouse Live Skull.
Live Skull arose in the wake of the No Wave scene and alongside acts like Sonic Youth and Swans, they laid the foundation for the genre of noise rock. While they disbanded around 1988, the current version of the band seemed to start to coalesce last year around a pair of tribute albums to Bisi, BC 35 Volume 1 and BC 35 Volume 2, compilations of various alumni of his BC studio, in New York’s Gowanus neighborhood, constructing new tunes in his honor.
Saturday Night Massacre is the first full-length from Live Skull since 1988’s Positraction, and it might come as a bit of a surprise to those expecting the same abrasive and confrontational noise rock of their early releases. It’s instantly apparent from the opening title track that the band has transformed into a more relaxed proto-punk via indie rock feel. The lyrics are delivered in a cool and detached manner. This approach doesn’t suggest a lack of emotion, though. In fact, Saturday Night Massacre seems to be an album-length diatribe about the current political climate. The narrative voice provided by vocalist and founding member Mark C isn’t based in youthful outrage, but instead in a “with-age-comes-wisdom” sense of knowingness.
Musically, the approach has also been streamlined. In the past, Live Skull might have been lumped together with Sonic Youth, but this album might be the closest they’ve ever come to really sounding like them. “Nova Police” seems to evoke the same drive that fueled Goo, while “Shadow War” is more in the spirit of Dirty. Other influences pop up as well. The keyboard lines in “Up Against the Wall” almost hint at synthwave. The punkish boogie of “Identical Skies” is a nod to Iggy Pop, and the drone of “Midnight Zone” is reminiscent of the Stooges‘ “We Will Fall,” itself more than a little indebted to the Doors.
Live Skull sidesteps trying to recapture the fire and fury of much of their Eighties output, but nevertheless creates a powerful album with Saturday Night Massacre. Their new, colder approach reveals something about political music in this era. The bandmembers have stated that they were originally a product of Ronald Reagan’s America, and now that they are back with Trump in charge, they sound both seasoned yet exasperated to still be fighting these battles. Perhaps the detachment indicates fatigue, or maybe it displays a knowing sense that with a little bit of resistance, this too shall pass.