It’s tough to say whether they were driven to madness by one too many Ben Folds comparisons or performed some musical voodoo ritual during the four weeks they spent recording in New Orleans, but former piano-poppers Modern Skirts emerge on Gramahawk a changed band. The giddy hooks, of which the Skirts seem to have no shortage, remain intact, but for this effort, the quartet wisely mined the bizzaro bedroom recordings of lead singer Jay Gulley. The result is a lo-fi, synthy romp through DUIs (“DUI”), a love song for an ‘80s one-hit wonder (“Jane Child”) and some kind of psychedelic Renaissance fair soundtrack (“To Be a Branch Davidian”) that, even when it nudges into overwrought territory, is just absurdly fun.
Discordant backing vocals and drawling synths on much of the album’s second half keep Gramahawk from spinning into a sugar-high, and Gulley’s lyrics keep things interesting. One minute he’s turning a pleasant daydream about moving to the coast with a loved one into a deranged fantasy about limbs “hanging from some chains and meat hooks” (“Hitler on Wheels”). Next thing you know, he’s suggesting a first date that includes “a mariachi band and me removing your top” (“Ship Shape”). It’s a testament to the quartet’s skill in building arrangements around Gulley’s compositions that this somehow comes off more endearing than creepy. The eclectic and infectious result is an album that finds the Modern Skirts changed for the better and on their way to more good things.