Bronson Recordings – 26th May 2023

Christopher Nosnibor

90s alt-rock band Come, fronted by Thalia Zedek, provided my route to discovering Live Skull, which she joined in 1987 and took over lead vocal duties. But my curiosity and interest in evolution and lineage led me to pick up cheap vinyl copies of Bringing Home the Bait and Don’t Get Any on You, which, brimming with shouty vocals, scratchy guitars and low-slung bass, could reasonably be described as No-Wave classics.

Somewhat ironically for a band which emerged out of the foment of 80s New York which also spawned Sonic Youth and Swans, the Live Skull reportedly disbanded in 1990 due to sustained lack of commercial success.

Perspectives change over time, although it was perhaps more of a returning to their original motivations which spurred them to reconvene in 2016, since when they’ve released two albums, with Party Zero being the third, and the seventh studio album of their career.

Delivering an album that’s described as ‘a fiercely political album, in keeping with this politically fierce age’ and ‘timely music, essential, impassioned, angry and beautiful’ founder Mark C. It is a politically fierce age, and now more than any time since the late 70s and early 80s – a period which spawned so many bands who existed as an outlet for frustration and anger and all kinds of difficult and even ugly emotions through nihilistic noise and various forms of confrontation and antagonism.

Sonically, Party Zero isn’t especially nihilistic or noisy, confrontational or antagonistic, but does very much refine these elements and hone the delivery of an almost obsessive focus on corruption, abuse of power, inequality and injustice.

If the sound is rather more polished and widescreen than their 80s releases, the key ingredients are still there, not least of all jagged guitars that blur and crackle with treble and careen into dissonance and discord against big, bold basslines. There’s a palpable sense of urgency to the songs on Party Zero. It may not be their strongest album or their most innovative or distinctive – but it’s an album that’s necessary.

“We’ve been pushed to the edge – how do we claw our way back? That’s been a common theme in Live Skull since the beginning, and so it is now. We’re trying to provoke thought.” There seems to be a rising tide of bands out to achieve these same ends, now, and from a vastly diverse range of stylistic contexts, from the minimal beats and loops of Sleaford Mods to the raging ranting noise-blasts of Benefits via the angular post-punk of I Like Trains. People are pissed off – and they’re frustrated, and scared – and those people in bands are using their platforms to call the bullshit, the fearmongering, the manipulation, the rise of the right and the immorality of governments and multinational companies.

It’s not just the pithy lyrics: ‘Neutralize the Outliers’ sounds like a rabble-rousing protest song, more New Model Army than anything that belies the band’s origins, and it works because it feels necessary, vital.

‘Chords of Inquiry’ plugs away at a simple, spare riff driven by crashing drums, and the drumming is a strong contributor to the album’s dynamic feel, and nowhere more on ‘Mad Kingship’, as they thunder along in a sustained roll. ‘Inside the Exclusion Zone’ is accessible, but driven, choppy, urgent, with a contemporary post-punk feel – think Radio 4’s take on the Gang of Four sound – and the same is true of ‘Turn Up the Static’, with its dubby strolling bass that ambulates through the reverby verses (before the chorus slugs out a mid-tempo fist-pumping holler-along call to arms).

And this is why the surge in protest music is what we need right now. It likely won’t change the world; the chances it won’t change opinions or provoke all that much thought, since most people who are likely to listen to Live Skull are the kind of people who are already in the same camp of political frustration or despair – and that’s ok. What these people – we – need is to know we’re not alone, and to feel a sense of unity and community, and for these feelings of frustration and anger to be articulated by relatable voices. Party Zero does that – and with some solid tunes.



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