One concept that regularly pops up in the press materials for the release of Skifflin’, is the concept of music being “handmade”, and without “digital trickery”. It’s a common idea to base a folk record on, in spite of it arguably being a reductive one. Can the average listener discerned if any “digital trickery” has taken place, given the wide reach of auto tune in pop music? Does computer music not show the same level of expression as traditional music? Quandaries aside, the first album by folk supergroup The Skiffle Players is remarkably slick for something reportedly untouched by computers, and it is quite an achievement for the band members, that they managed to pull it off.
The most well known member of The Skiffle Players is Cass McCombs, who has been making his particular brand of strange folk music for 10 years, and played in many bands during the 1990’s. Aaron Sperske and Farmer Dave Scher were both member of Beachwood Sparks, and Sperske has played with artists such as Father John Misty and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Dan Horne and Neal Casal have played in Circles Around the Sun. The band has a huge amount of collective experience, ranging back decades, and it shows. The country by-way-of psych folk sound is a potent combination of the band members’ previous styles, and it feels bigger than any one of their contributions.
The rollicking drums and circular guitar of opener Coo Coo Bird seems like a feint on first listen, especially given the slow burn, psyched out spaciousness of lead single Omie Wise. However, on a second listen, it makes more sense, as Skifflin’ is not beholden to any one genre of country or folk, and the band wanders all over Americana in search of sounds. Michael Weikel is a barroom blues stomper, and the band name drops New Orleans many times, but it veers dangerously close to pastiche. Railroadin’ Some combines the bluegrass guitars of the opener with echoing lap steel guitars that circle across the mix, and the results are psychedelic and ominous. The phased lead guitar line of A Star For You wouldn’t sound out of place in a Horn of Plenty-era Grizzly Bear song, and McComb’s vocals mingle with a demonic, pitched down voice in the hook. It’s the strongest track, combining the band’s disparate elements into an arresting and tense song, and experimenting with interesting textures, like the faint organ squeals that underly rest of the track.
If there’s any issue with Skifflin’, it’s that it sounds ironically rigid for a band advertised as “handmade”. Sperske’s drums are particularly metronomic, especially in terms of their consistency of volume, which robs some tracks of the energy they could otherwise have. The whole album sounds very professional, and has a slick recording sheen on top of the songs that sounds expensive, but is perhaps detrimental to the sound The Skiffle Players are aiming for.However, in spite of the recording issues, Skifflin’ is a lot of fun. It’s the kind of country folk “they don’t make anymore”, as other bands have moved onto newer sounds. Even as the songs roam through genres, they always sound cohesive, and The Skiffle Players have created a fun, polished album.