Upon its debut, the band immediately caused a stir in its Toronto hometown, hooking up with the city’s well-regarded independent label, Buzz Records, right out of the gate, and earning a reputation as a shit-hot live band. Casper Skulls released its debut EP, Lips & Skull, through Buzz last fall, within about a year and a half of playing its first gig. (The band’s first full-length is slated for release this fall.)
It’s not hard to hear the appeal. Casper Skulls takes elements from throughout the history of Indie Rock (or Alternative Rock or College Rock or Punk; the nomenclature depends on what era you’re looking at) to create something distinct and captivatingly unpredictable. Besides the fairly continual musical shifts, Casper Skull’s two lead vocalists — Melanie St-Pierre and Neil Bednis — help to create a sonic profile that is so multifaceted, Lips & Skull has the feel of a great mixtape (in the classic “here are some of my favorite songs on a cassette” sense), even though there are only five tracks.
Bednis’ delivery is often of the wide-eyed speak/sing variety, akin to The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, Mclusky’s (and Future of the Left’s) Andrew Falkous and The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, but he also will remind you of Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus at times (check out the EP’s “Errands” for the best example). St-Pierre gives the tracks on which she sings lead a different hue, with a strong melodic allure and a gnarring purr Kim Gordon would be proud of. Meanwhile, the guitar work ranges from wiry leads that sound like hotwired descendants of Wire, Gang of Four and Television (the band’s name and the EP’s title are taken from letters between Television’s Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine) to more atmospheric touches that hover in the realms of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine.
Despite all of those touchstones, the imaginative way everything is put together and the vigor of Casper Skulls’ performances keep things from ever feeling retro or like a Xeroxed copy of things that have come before. Still, if loving a band that reminds you of the best parts of Proto Punk, Post Punk and classic Indie Rock is wrong, I don’t want to be right.