It’s a shame Casper Skulls couldn’t have floated through town just a couple weeks earlier — sometime closer to Halloween. On an aesthetic level, they’re perfectly attuned to the holiday’s cozier cues: the Toronto quartet shares its first name with pop culture’s friendliest phantom, and the cover of the band’s latest LP, Mercy Works, features folksy sketches of a bat and a contorted body that wouldn’t feel out of place on the pages of a Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collection.
In terms of ethos, they also have much in common with All Hallows’ Eve, assuming the role of a one-band costume party when they hit the studio. Spin the first few tracks of Mercy Works and you’ll get it. The record is a tribute to all things noisy and ’90s, serving a couple poppy takes on the droning Art Rock soundscapes perfected by Sonic Youth and Pixies, flawlessly capturing Pavement’s sardonic swagger on “What’s That Good For” and even capitalizing on the opportunity to incorporate elements of early Emo on the oddly-titled “I Stared At ‘Moses and the Burning Bush.’ ”
The band dons many masks, but that’s not to say they’re merely masters of disguise. Casper Skulls are still quite recognizable behind their layers of fuzz and reverb, crafting scrappy lo-fi Pop that fits neatly into the same zeitgeist that houses Frankie Cosmos and Alex G. They’re for the Indie kids and the parents of those kids, eager to recapture the days of bumping Dinosaur Jr. CDs in the station wagon.
They’re here for the ghosts, too. Not to be a downer, but we’ll warn you ahead of time: Casper Skulls will make you revel in nostalgic warmth while simultaneously forcing you to reflect on your own mortality. The 2016 EP Lips and Skull is a marriage of the mundane and the morbid, pairing quips about an undying devotion to the Toronto Blue Jays and their Starbucks order (“Grande. Blonde.”) with stark reminders that it takes even more conviction to stand up against corrupt hierarchies. There’s also a song about running errands for a dead person. Heavy stuff.
Halloween may have passed, but Casper Skulls deliver enough wintry malaise to last you through Christmas. Embrace the cold.