With the retro craze in full swing, it’s a breeze to hear your favorite sounds of yesteryear updated and reconstructed — provided “yesteryear” means the era of the Fall, Wire, or Joy Division. But what about those of us who enjoy the jazzy pop of the 1970s, sans irony? No doubt Seattle’s Crystal Skulls are aware of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, but they don’t just rehash the heady days when AM radio reigned supreme. Instead, they borrow that same mocking tone and smooth sound and use it to write snappy, diverse pop songs that bite as much as they soothe.
Christian Wargo used to play with Pedro the Lion, which must have pleased his strict Pentecostal parents, who forbade him from listening to “worldly pop.” But whereas the David Bazan-led group uses depression and cynicism as a cautionary tale, Wargo dives right in without mercy. Witness “Count Your Gold,” the chronicles of an unimaginative band ready to make a quick buck: “These are the steps that you’re going to take/ These are the smiles you’ll have to fake/ Band’s on the radar/ Count your gold.” The jazzy guitar of “Every Little Bit” lends way too much cheer to a chorus of “How’re we gonna end the trouble that we’re in/ You know we’re gonna miss every little bit/ No way we can make it out together.”
All the while, the band’s spacious but slick early-Modest Mouse-meets-Steely Dan sound lulls you into a martini-drinking haze. When they speed it up, as on “Airport Motels,” they actually seem to get tighter — a testament to their chops. But after hearing tracks like the sublime “Hussy,” you’ll need no further convincing of their talent. You’ll merely sit back, smoke a cigarette (or eight) and wish this record were longer than thirty-five minutes.