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Out of the Closet 

Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys want to make pop important again.

There are two options for the writer who takes on the daunting task of profiling Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys: Make several trips to the thesaurus and heap on arcane musical references to describe the band's sound, or just hang up the hyphens and simply call this enigmatic collective of Oberlin grads a bunch of weirdos.

"I don't really think our music is weird," says point man Matt Mehlan, "but that might just make me weird."

What started out as Skeletons -- Mehlan's bedroom electronica musings -- has, over the last few years, evolved into a collaboration with the four Girl-Faced Boys, who bring a trick bag of digitally enhanced instruments and share Mehlan's off-kilter approach to composition.

Last year's Git, the group's first album on the edgy indie Ghostly International, is the kind of disc that can drown listeners in its uniqueness. Creepy, cozy, soulfully humming with ethereal synths and indiscernible atmospherics, Git hopscotches boldly across pop and avant-garde. Mehlan's FM-lite falsetto is as rich and white as a Republican, but conveys the same kind of leisure-suit soul as Steely Dan. The band twists, glitches, and twitches into stark, warm melodies and Prefuse-style digital beats. It's challenging, playful, and often beautiful stuff.

"Like math rock dudes or whatever get a bad rap," Mehlan counters. "A lot of people think they're making their songs difficult. That's why it's called math rock -- that's not necessarily a positive in a lot of people's minds. But what people don't think about is that like 90 percent of all popular music in the past 50 years -- longer than that -- is in 4/4 time signature. And the fact that in the past 50 years, like 99.997 percent is in the normal tuning system of a guitar or piano. So it's weird that it's weird to move out of that."

If it sounds as if Mehlan might be taking aim at the predictability of mainstream music, that's because he is. Sort of.

"It's more organic than that," he says of Skeletons' experimental approach. "Probably more than that, there's a sense of 'Okay, this reminds me too much of something that I know already.'"

Willfully experimental music might earn the label of "important," but it also tends to bore, thanks to a distinct lack of fun. Who needs importance, when you just want a groove?

"I don't think you should have one without the other," Mehlan says. "There's a need for both always. The saddest people are the people that take their sadness so seriously that it overwhelms them. I think it's a lot sweeter to be able to laugh at the saddest things in your life than it is to wallow in them."

Which is why, on Git and onstage, Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys offer a good time and a good mindfuck.

"When we go on tour, the songs are just the starting point, the reference point for something," Mehlan says. "That way, we can write a new song without writing a new song. We structure them in a way where we do have space to improvise and force things to work out in new ways. None of us have been interested in having just guitar, bass, drums on the stage and knowing the song is 1-4-5-1 chords and playing it through and then being done. We like to have something to let ourselves do to keep it interesting for us and to keep it interesting for people."

So if there was a rallying cry, an overarching mission for the band, maybe that would be it: Do something important, but keep it interesting.

"I think that Git was really important to me, and I want it to be important to other people. People don't make important records, really. You know -- there's very few records every year that are even considered within the spectrum of noticeability. You either make a record that's one of the top 10 of the year, or nobody knows about it. I want to just keep making important records for myself and keep moving forward."

More by Jonathan Zwickel

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