Avant-pop music can be tricky. Steer one way, and it comes off as smug. Steer the other way, and it can be coy and cutesy. Matt Mehlan keeps his version squarely in the center.
Mehlan's been making music under the Skeletons moniker since 2002's Everybody Dance With Your Steering Wheel. "It's such a simple, unoriginal name," he says. "But it has so many different connotations that people can get from it. I like that about it."
His fourth album, Git, is the first he's recorded with a band, the Girl-Faced Boys. They play percussion-fueled pop that's funky one minute, way out there the next. Onstage, Mehlan and his crew shake, shimmy, and bang everything in sight with sticks. Imagine Stomp! performed by Pere Ubu.
"I'm always asked to describe our music," says Mehlan, 23. "And I always say, it's pop music. At its core, that's really all it can be described as."
Mehlan, who started recording solo projects when he was a music student at Oberlin College, released three albums under the Skeletons name. All were lo-fi dance/laptop experiments that leaned on Mehlan's sometimes-soaring, sometimes-faltering falsetto. After bringing a backing band on the road with him last year to support I'm at the Top of the World, Mehlan decided to give them a shot in the studio.
"It was necessary to keep things interesting for myself," says Mehlan, who now lives in New York. "I see this as a group of friends and collaborators and business partners."
Git sounds like something made by a collective. It's strong, full, and vibrant. And it's loaded with oddball titles like "There's a Fly in Your Soup and I Put It There" and "There Are Seagulls Who Live in Parking Lots."
If the lyrics are oblique, the music's even more so. World-beat rhythms collide with percussive attacks that dance around electronic rattles and hums. "There's more of a risk in keeping a song basic than there is in flipping it out," says Mehlan. "At any given time, there's a big set of things that I'm listening to constantly. The first CD that flipped me out was [Snoop Dogg's] Doggystyle. Those sort of experiences still influence."
Even though he's leading a real band now, Mehlan still calls the shots. He claims to be a pretty laid-back supervisor -- "I'm a passive boss," he laughs -- but admits to stepping up when the situation calls for it. "I know what I want," he says.
And even if the individual members of Girl-Faced Boys are interchangeable, Skeletons, as an avant-pop art project, is not. "I have grand musical ideas," says Mehlan. "I'm not so caught up in one thing anymore. The only way to keep finding stuff you like without getting bored is to keep pushing your tastes."
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