Bands making their fourth album aren’t supposed to sound as though they’re having as much fun as step-sisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse – AKA Skating Polly – clearly are on ‘The Big Fit’. Then again, most bands aren’t making their fourth album before the age of twenty. Reviews of the album – including the positive ones, of which there have been many – have, rather condescendingly, drawn attention to the musicians’ lack of technical ability. These reviews miss the point; not content to merely plug in and bash away, Skating Polly reach beyond their limits – and beyond the limits of punk rock – to achieve an inventive and compelling musicality.
‘Perfume Now’ demonstrates the band’s skilful handling of the oft-used quiet verse-loud chorus formula. In the verse, Mayo is quietly dangerous over a brittle guitar figure and softly pounding tom-toms. There is a surprising chord change on the line, “Even in my dreams I would not be bitter/ Even in my dreams I would not spell it out”. Then, the chorus erupts with a wall of power chords and nearly ultrasonic vocals, Mayo spitting venom. This song shows the band at their most Nirvana-esque: the band succeed in sounding both vulnerable and ferocious, the quiet, melodic verse pulling the listener in and the aggressive chorus hurling them back.
The band venture into noise rock territory on ‘Hey Sweet’. Mayo‘s fuzzed out basitar (a homemade guitar-bass hybrid) gives the song an almost metallic heaviness, while her petulant vocals bring to mind Babes in Toyland frontwoman Kat Bjelland. Skating Polly describe their music as “ugly pop”, and like their heroes Babes in Toyland they revel in ugliness: “this won’t hurt too badly/ I’ll just take your skin”.
On ‘Pretective Boy’, however, they prove themselves capable of creating music of astounding loveliness. The ability to take the volume down a notch without losing any emotional weight is redolent of Sleater-Kinney, as is the song’s intricate vocal interplay. Both women are excellent singers, covering a range of dynamics and vocal approaches, and this is best demonstrated when their voices are combined. Given their youth, Skating Polly could be excused for indulging in the kind of aimless whining that dominates most male-oriented indie rock. Yet their lyrics demonstrate a remarkable maturity when depicting adolescence: “And if we fail together/ well, no that’s not really failure”.
A handful of piano-driven tracks provide contrast to the guitar-based material, the best of which is ‘Arms and Opinions’, whose opening chords sound a little like ‘Apple Blossom’ by The White Stripes. The song features some interesting changes in tempo and metre that force the listener to take notice, proving that Skating Polly cannot be easily pigeonholed.
Skating Polly continue to improve with every release, and ‘The Big Fit’ is their most accomplished album yet. One can only imagine what the future holds for these two exceptional young women.
‘The Big Fit’ is out now via Chap Stereo.
This Skating Polly article was written by Joe Turner, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.