⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
If you’re afraid to hear something new then skip this review.
Sketchy Donut is all about marrying the wrong things and making something better than either. They duck instead of zag. Guitars are clean, vocals are distorted. Drums are halfspeed while bass is double time. Songs start with a chorus and end on a string of free form, non rhyming verses.
Imagine factory sludge guitars under crisp bass and bright crackling drums, with a vocal so catchy you’ll wonder how they pulled it off (“Lack Of Lamb“), or booming slap attack bass and over the top drums and guitar dexterity under a drunken accordion melody (“Black Lemonade“).
Or just imagine if Sinus merged with Brittle Face and got heavier but more accessible.
Imagine every song is the best song on the album.
And what an album. More than a collection of songs it’s a collection of experiments, each bubbling and percolating in its petri dish until it literally crawls off on its own to mate with the next tune and produce its mutant offspring. Each member leaves their indelible mark with performances that jump and vibrate, bouncing off and into each other to create a steamy stew that goes down easy and leaves you eager for seconds.
Vocalist Phase Gibbous has one of those voices that sound at first like someone else, then someone different, then its uniqueness becomes apparent and you realize it never sounded familiar, your brain just needed time to work it out. It evokes high class strip clubs, awful burnt out cabarets, lush green garden parties and polished-bright future cityscapes. Slipping into gruff blues and sugary sweet candy lands, Gibbous lets his voice melt or freeze you, sometimes both, teasing out just enough warmth to take the chill off or cool down a barn burner.
Belgian born Slow Motion learned how to play guitar by building one as a teen, and his new, one of a kind, 9 string “Guitoy”™ sounds incredible, especially alongside bassist Black Jack, the two combining to form amazing grooves on “That Goes There.” The songs allow each member to both dominate and facilitate, and even when they’re at their most straight forward (which for them is never, really), the band manages to surprise.
Drummer Carry Yon has never sounded better, both sonically and in his playing, lending the group a tidiness it turns out was missing all along. His playing suits the song, and his kit changes accordingly. On “Tom’s Apple Pie” the kick booms like a cannon and the snare smacks and pops. “Black Lemonade” features what sound like jungle drums, pulsing and snapping as they unfold over and around exotic, odd time guitar and bass rhythms.
Jack’s synthbass propels forward in leaps and bounds, lending “No Harm, No Fowl” a goopy glue that binds the sparse, high strung guitar and drums.
Motion and Jack played together in Shake’s Beer before forming Sketchy Donut with ex-members of (respectively) Dog and Velvet Drupes Yon and Gibbous, and the combination is electric. The songs are all great, they’re all different sounding but sound good together.
There’s power chord heaven on “Numquat” and then there’s distorted drums and bass, feedback chaos from Motion and octave divided dazzling from Gibbous on “Sellin Relish.” There’s driving pop rock, minor key riffage, circus sideshow altprog, unplugged neotechno, and grand ballroom reggae blues. Yup, reggae blues.
It’s a melange of musical textures, anchored to intricate arrangements and extraordinary musicianship. It’s next level, rock-based progressive altpop that both dizzies and delivers, offering singable melodies and a feast for air drummers and what-have-yous everywhere.
The band may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but even milk toasters will appreciate the creativity and talent displayed on Livin It Up, another winner from the always interesting Sketchy Donut.