Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer
One of Us, the second studio album of Los Angeles based R&B group Mystery Skulls, is summed up best by the band’s name: a mystery.
What is this? Who created this? Why have I never heard of this artist? All of these questions flood the listener’s mind when hearing the album. However, none of these questions are answered in any way. While unnerving, this lack of anything concrete about the group is soon forgotten when the the album is experienced as a whole. Only then is there one question that matters: How can the sound of this album be put into words?
To endeavor to answer that question, the best place to start would be to imagine the album as that of an ‘80s rock group that discovered techno. The resulting fusion of two seemingly conflicting genres is a sound that works together seamlessly to create an immersive experience for the listener. The instrumentation itself works to create this cacophony of noise that blasts the listener with a burst of energy.
However, after playing a song or two, it becomes evident that there is too much going on. Each track has multiple parts that seem to compete against each other rather than work together, and that only hinders the presence of the album. The vocals especially can feel like a blurred mess rather than the highlight of each track.
That haziness is where any meaning gets lost, even more so because the lyrics in One of Us are very abstract. Mystery Skulls doesn’t say anything literally and opts instead for heavy symbolism in its music. This style only works, however, if the music around it isn’t so enveloping that it overshadows the vocals.
Furthering the difficulty of discerning insight or meaning from any song is the album’s tone. The only emotions the group pushes are high-energy and good feelings, which can work but necessitate a careful study of the lyrics to grasp any other emotion — lyrics that are, again, difficult to hear.
Intrigue aside, once the uniqueness of the music wears off on the listener, it becomes clear that most of the music sounds the same. If a random track from One of Us were played, it’d be as easy to guess which specific song is playing as it would be to win the lottery. Sure, there’s a chance you could distinguish each song, but after a certain point, it becomes more a game of chance than something that can be carefully studied.
Mystery Skulls, to put it simply, is a one-trick pony in terms of musical ability. While the Los Angeles-based group seems to be able to create a unique blend of genres in order to establish a sound like nothing else out there, it still falls short of creating enough material for more than just one song. As such, its latest album just feels like one song put on a 30 minute loop.
The album works effectively as music at a party, but nowhere else. This is not something anyone would listen to while studying because it’s hard to gain any sense of the word calm when describing this band. Everything is just this high energy mess.
Overall, if you’re someone looking for something radically different for your music library and aren’t looking for a calm experience, this album could work — as background music. Otherwise, it’s a bust.