Live Skull

Cloud One

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For their second full-length album, Live Skull started speeding up their previously turgid tempos and began sounding more like a conventional rock band, but 1986's Cloud One was still clearly a product of the same New York underground scene that birthed Sonic Youth, Swans, and Glenn Branca. Drummer James Lo puts noticeably more fire under these tunes (which feel more like tunes than random sludgy riffs), with a valuable assist from bassist Marnie Greenholz, and guitarists Tom Paine and Mark C. are somewhat more concerned with melody on Cloud One than before. But the give and take between the guitarists still sounds punishing as they move back and forth between hard rock-oriented numbers like "Haircut for Pigs," fierce but atmospheric pieces like "Bell Shaped Heads," and fragmented jams such as "I'll Break You." This music is aggressive without Sonic Youth's pretensions to hardcore, and arty without Branca's aspirations toward contemporary classical; instead, Live Skull were content to be a rock band that modeled its music from guitar noise and a petulant attitude, and the bandmembers were smart in a more streetwise, less polished manner, and Cloud One uses their massive shards of minor-key sound to create rock music that satisfies the mind, the body, and your carefully cultivated air of hostility all at once. Live Skull's own particular Wall of Sound would become bigger and more satisfying when Thalia Zedek joined the band a year after Cloud One, but these recordings show the band was already capable of creating powerful, uncompromising music without her help.

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