Gentle Ivanhoe Death Skulls - 'Beaches'

In the spirit of full disclosure you should know now: this album is called Beaches. Yeah, I
know. But hang on, this isn’t a “surf punk” record. Not even close. Put down that Dads reference and stamp out that five panel hat you lit on fire. We may have all once said “If You’re Song Has ‘Beach’ in the Title, I’m Not Listening” but maybe it’s time to let old wounds (and reverb damaged ears) heal. Gentle Ivanhoe Death Skulls finally have a debut and it’s only here to help, I promise.

The album introduces itself with the excellent, “Green Hang Ten”, a song that first saw release
online as a single in late 2017. “Hang Ten” rolls in on smokescreen synths and with a kinetic bassline in the driver seat. It’s dancey and just a little distant at the start and remains that way until arriving at its blissfully abrupt conclusion. It’s an opener that is both on trend and out of time; a combination that conjures atmosphere and finds the Death Skulls’ sharing a channel with the likes of Cleaners From Venus and fellow Swedes, The Radio Dept.

Where “Green Hang Ten” shines as the ear catching opener, its successor, “Heavyweight”,
rushes in to assure listeners that Death Skulls are not the kind of band to occupy any lane too long.
“Heavyweight” brings listeners back to earth with sketchy guitars and rubber stomp rhythms before the euphoric “Hairdresser” launches them back up, sky high. In fact, the latter track features a synth line so sunny it could have been lifted from the lush desktop meadows of James Ferraro's “Far Side Virtual”. It became clear, through the lofi twee of the title track to album’s midpoint, “A Clubber Lang Fan” that “Hang Ten” was only the beginning of a hot streak.

Beaches' success comes not just from its commitment to variation but also it’s knowing how to wrap a good track fast. The band sets up one song after the other, never lingering or allowing an idea to feel less than fresh. While this approach renders the second half of the record slightly anonymous, it’s likely a result of the streaming format rather than a failure of songwriting. Beaches is an album that would probably benefit from being heard in a more traditional “side A/ side b” structure. Unfortunately in the age of streaming, the highly concentrated sugar of Beaches can lose flavor after an unbroken half hour.

Gentle Ivanhoe Death Skulls is not a band without peers. In general terms they have much in
common with bigger groups such as Tycho and Hoops. However, what distinguishes Gentle Ivanhoe Death Skulls, besides their very long name, is a total lack of lethargy. The band approaches their songs with a high energy and enthusiasm that feels uncommon in a modern dream pop act. Unsatisfied to simply borrow the textures and cassette pastiche of past decades, Death Skulls are mindful enough to include the danceable “Happy Sad” songcraft that was the trademark of 80’s alternative. It makes for a listening experience that is feels at home in the bedroom, the bar and even, yeah, the beach.

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Writen by Jake Rzeppa (@getoldordietrying)