Skeleton Coast is the new album by Chicago punk band The Lawrence Arms. Only their second LP in 14 years, Skeleton Coast picks up right where were they left off. The album was released by Epitaph Records and was recorded at Sonic Ranch Studio in Texas, which was a departure from the band typically recording in Chicago. The process may have felt different for the band, but the signature Lawrence Arms sound remains.
Lawrence Arms managed to record this before the pandemic hit hard in the United States, so it’s interesting to reflect on the lyrics in the current context. Regardless, a new Lawrence Arms album has been circled on my calendar for months now.
I have been a fan of The Lawrence Arms ever since a friend showed me Oh Calcutta! Their sound stood out among most punk bands. The lyrical balance between the two singers and the dichotomy of the tonal quality between the two voices is something that does not come around often. Rancid comes to mind with this dynamic, but Tim Armstrong songs feel like Tim Armstrong songs. Lawrence Arms feels like one cohesive unit.
As drummer Neil Hennessy notes in a YouTube interview (Channel That’s Good Enough for Me), “the thing I’m playing to the most is the delivery of the words.” Always making sure the tempo is just right for the band.
This comes through particularly on “Last, Last Words.” Through the perspective of a drummer (which I am), the tempo feels slow for punk band. It feels perfect for the emotion of the song, however. This is one of my favorite aspects of The Lawrence Arms. Speed is not the goal, but for the overall sound to feel genuine.
The production of Lawrence Arms records plays a huge role in this. Skeleton Coast is no exception. There is not a ton of unique effects, overdubs, or gratuitous instruments. For the most part, this is what the three-piece band will sound like in a live setting.
The opening track “Quiet Storm” is an outstanding song to kick off the album. The intro is unexpectedly subdued. The song quickly kicks into the trademark punk sound. I love how Brendan (bass) and Chris (guitar) subtly trade off during the second verse. There are rare (for The Lawrence Arms) “ahh” background harmonies during the last verse. This track certainly grabbed my attention and still stands as my favorite of the album.
“How To Rot” is another standout track that happens to be the shortest, at a quick 1:46. This song reminds of the style of Brendan’s side project The Falcon. The bridge has a bizarre pitched-up vocal part that transitions into gang-style vocals. It may sound jarring, but everything gels together for a classic kick-ass Lawrence Arms punk song.
Skeleton Coast is step up from The Lawrence Arms’ previous album Metropole, which I was not a fan of initially. The anticipation of waiting eight years after my favorite Lawrence Arms record did not help matters. Metropole eventually grew on me, but Skeleton Coast has grabbed me from the start.
The Lawrence Arms have reached the later years of their career, where punk artists tend to fade in quality. This is not the case for Skeleton Coast. It might not be at the level of Oh Calcutta! for me, but it is too soon to tell.