Frenchkiss Records traffics frequently in the vein of late-night spazziness that Call Me Lightning calls home, with acts like Thunderbirds Are Now! and Les Savy Fav (whose bassist, Syd Butler, founded the label). It’s a comfortable sound, like a worn-out sweater, for the boutique New York label.
Soft Skeletons, the Milwaukee trio’s second album and first on Frenchkiss Records, is all jerky moves and frayed nerves. Frontman Nathan Lilley’s frantic energy is plainly contagious and, as a point, there’s seldom a sleepy moment. And the band, which is rounded out by bassist Bill Kutsch and drummer Shane Hochstetler and which has been together in various incarnations for almost a decade, clearly enjoy playing together. They fall away from frenzied crushes into breath catching lulls in perfect synchronicity.
But the type of indecisive thrashing that’s a treat live fails on record. Plenty of agreeable points surface, but the musicians can’t — or won’t — keep their minds on one track long enough. “Can’t keep my hands from fidgeting, and I don’t know why,” Lilley yelps on “Billions.” It’s not until the title track that he settles into a placated groove, resting his indefatigable wail. “Your kingdom is lost!” he announces, over and over, as the boys bash home the beat.
Call Me Lightning isn’t exactly a sound-alike act, and Frenchkiss isn’t exactly churning it out, but it’s the type of thing that is miles more exciting in person, where Lilley’s loose-limbed intensity can be soaked in completely. We’re left with a record that does little to distinguish itself.