Abe Vigoda are most often referenced in any review, story, Twitter post, and Facebook group pertaining to No Age (they're the actor Abe Vigoda, say, to No Age's Marlon Brando) and, more specifically, the Smell, the all-ages club the frequent with like-minded bands including HEALTH and Mika Miko. But with their third full-length, Skeleton, Abe Vigoda make the case for being more than a parenthetical context reference.
The No Age reference is relevant, though: No two bands in the L.A. scene are as similar. No Age bury small pop tidbits underneath heavy fuzz and din, leaving listeners to sort it out. Abe Vigoda, however, bury bits of pop underneath clamorous near-Afro-pop haziness and tinges of world music (most noticeably Calypso) while never letting the listener have a beat on where the band is going -- jumping genres, going soft and alternately blowing your head off.
The galloping “Dead City/ Waste Wilderness” is the first of many highlights. The guitars sound like the cracking of wires or steel drums, creating a distinctly tropical feel. “Bear Face,” with its “You want a piece of me?” chorus, continues that sound in a more direct fashion but sacrifices none of the recklessness of the first track.
Brevity is the buzzword throughout Skeleton. No track goes over four minutes, and five don’t even hit two minutes. But brilliance emerges within those constraints. The nearly two-minute-long “Animal Ghosts” rattles and rolls like a tightly wound spool of thread until it finally completely unravels in its “I love my life” shouting chorus. “Hyacinth Grrls” rides its Afro-pop bounce to a dazzling cacophonous finish, and “Gates” finds the band at the using tropical music as tool to bludgeon, not to mellow listeners.
The album’s closing triptych is what steals the show here. Instrumental “Visi Rings” sounds like the descent of a spaceship over a mountain (like the one in Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and announces the longest track, “Endless Sleeper,” the most carefully crafted on the album. Drummer Reggie Guerrero fires tom blasts like mortar shells while the clear verse section of the song quickly gives way to a discordant middle. The clanging title track closes the album out in an unsteady fashion; it seems as if there’s something to follow, but unfortunately the ride is over.
But that’s the one concession made to listeners on the whole of the album. While you spent 34 minutes just trying to keep up (and having a blast), the members of Abe Vigoda finally allow you to breath and get your bearings and then leave you to figure out what you just heard in an uneasy silence.
The late aughts have proven to be the best time for L.A. underground punk since the late '70s/early '80s, when bands like X, Fear, the Germs, and the Minutemen roamed the land. In the second coming, No Age is leading the way, with that band's growing fame helping to shed light on other worthy acts. One of those is Abe Vigoda. The band, not the elderly character actor/long-time Conan O'Brien punch line. The group has played many a show with No Age at the scene's ground zero, the club called the Smell. Abe Vigoda adds some world music touches to the spastic punk sounds of fellow City of Angels bands like Mika Miko and HEALTH. Skeleton is short and sweet, clocking in at just a bit over a half hour. It comes via label Post Present Medium, which is run by No Age's Dean Spunt.