Skin Suit by The Bobby LeesRelease date: July 17, 2020
Label: Alive Natural Sound Records
It’s always a good sign when you come to a band cold, to find you can’t stop putting their album on again. At first to check you didn’t imagine how good it was just ‘cos you were drunk or tired. Or worried about a killer virus. Then just because it’s got its hooks into you and you can’t shake it off. You start to think you should limit the amount of times you listen to it in a day. The Bobby Lees are a very young band from Woodstock, NY and they play the garage punk blues with real fire and wild animal energy like they can hardly stop themselves. I’ll probably have played Skin Suit to death by the time you read this.
The first song ‘Move’ has a couple of false starts, to give you a chance, before it goes charging off on an explosive riff of irresistible directionless energy. The guitars are a great warm fuzzy roar and the song is split by a brilliantly gnarly keyboard solo. Maybe your first thought is that Sam Quartin’s vocals have a dash of Jack White in them. That’s fine, but it passes because her voice is her own, vital and unruly. On ‘Coin’ it’s breathless and conspiratorial, on the scorching 90 second rush of ‘Guttermilk’ it sounds like she’s about to shake out of her skin.
Her songs are weird and intense. Like the best she brings her own language and pulls you into another world. It reminds me a little of Black Francis on those first Pixies records, when he seemed troubled by visions and the songs were mysterious and fevered. Quartin’s songs are vivid short stories shot with supernatural energies and raw nerve endings. The body as a vessel is a recurring image, ‘Riddle Daddy’ is a story of possession. It rattles off like The Gun Club heading out to The Wacky Races chock full of trucker speed but slows to delirious inner monologue “he needs a body, so I gotta let him in.”
‘Wendy’ is about taking a ninety one year old out to throw down her walker and get on the good foot, maybe dance herself to death. It has handclaps and a little surf guitar East Bay Ray style. Gotta love some handclaps, correct use is always a good sign. A manic dance along the edge of life and death is a strong theme too. ‘Drive’ fights the impulse to crash into telephone poles, “they said I shouldn’t drive when I’m feeling slightly suicidal…” and other reckless ideas but shoots forward on explosive bursts of pedal down energy. ‘Last Song’ starts as a classic testifying my love type ballad of tremolo guitar and wild organ. The pleading vocal spiralling into an increasingly ragged desperation that undercuts the “we’re gonna live” lyric as the music becomes a chaotic storm. It’s fantastic and is indeed a perfect ‘Last Song’.
For reasons unclear there’s then a couple of covers to round things out. Like the album was playing an encore or they just decided to give you the bonus tracks already and be done with it. To be fair, Quartin’s take on Bo Diddley’s strutting ‘I’m a Man’ is commanding enough to suggest there’s a lot more than something to play at soundcheck going on here. Their run through Richard Hell’s ‘Blank Generation’ is fine but still feels a weird way to close out such a great album. I guess they tie them to a tradition, one blues tune, one punk tune, garage as a folk form. They’ve got the great Jon Spencer himself on production here too which can’t have hurt any. The thing with garage is because it’s raw and simple, it can seem like it’s easy. Really it’s a Frankenstein’s monster. Everyone pretty much knows what the parts are and where they go, the trick is in capturing a lightning charge that gives it life. The Bobby Lees have got lightning running in their veins.