Matt Skiba is a very busy bee; the man is always working on something. As he said in an interview with Absolute Punk, “Idle hands… I have time on my hands and I use it to make music-.” In 2006 he pulled off Patent Pending in his side project, Heavens, followed shortly after by Alkaline Trio’s Agony and Irony in 2008, and then in 2010 released Alkaline’s This Addiction and his solo work called Demos. This was an apt title considering that’s exactly what the songs were, rough drafts, and boy were they rough. Now we are hearing a few of those scratchy songs properly executed on Babylon by Matt Skiba and the Sekrets. This time he has joined forces with MCR tour drummer, Jared Alexander, and bassist Hunter Burgan from AFI. I’ll preface this now by saying Skiba almost hit a home run with record; he at least scored a triple. It’s a great record.
Skiba has made it clear that Babylon is a true blue rock record, and it does in fact rock. There is only one mellow dramatic acoustic song at the end, “Angel of Deaf.” I found this project fascinating right off the bat simply because if Matt Skiba were hip and in touch with the current punk scene, he would have strapped on his acoustic guitar, bought a harmonica, grown a cute little beard and become a Chuck Ragan troubadour on the Revival Tour. This seems to be what grown up punks do these days. His Alkaline cohort Dan Andriano has followed this trend and released an artistically sound, extra moody album called Hurricane Season, it was actually far better than the majority of his recent Alkaline Trio songs (“Dine, Dine My Darling”…really?) But let’s talk about Babylon.
Babylon starts off in true Skiba fashion with his anthem “Voices,” laced with tasteful synth harmonies and pulsating drum and bass lines. The song has a thoughtful chorus that is perfectly commanding and sucks you into wanting to hear out this album. “Voices” captures the best of Skiba’s vocal range and ability, and with the spacious nature of the album his voice really soars. “All Fall Down” is next up and features a similar guitar pattern and a particularly inventive chorus melody. It was true to Skiba convention, taking a line that harkens to a classic children’s rhyme and lending it to a gothic synth rock masterpiece. Now the Skiba sensibility for blatant darkness loses its touch on “Luciferian Blues,” which is just about as gimmicky a title as possible. I just don’t get how after all these years of Alkaline Trio horror-punk he still has more hellish references up his sleeve. I tip my hat to you Matt Skiba. It’s like this, would Mike Ness truly be Mike Ness if he did not have an obsession with gangsters and writing songs like “Machine Gun Blues”? The answer is no.
In retrospect, the fast paced kick off to Babylon is the low point of the record. The real meat of the album is appropriately in the middle. “Haven’t You” is absolutely great, the delicate guitar picking and the once again largely present synth textures. Skiba had done something beautiful with his side project Heavens, and it seems this is when he brought back in some of that monotone, gentle sensibility to his new work. The angelic guitar riffs coupled with the stadium rock hooks made “Haven’t You” a jewel on Babylon. It’s worth noting that this song was on the 2010 Demos, and was just alright then, not it’s unforgettable. “The End of Joy” is placed impeccably on Babylon as a follow-up to “Haven’t You”, the dark Good Mourning-esque riffs make it maybe the heaviest song on Babylon.
“You” is a fun song; the intro is ambient and features Skiba’s voice belting like a spirit that never found rest. This is appropriate because Skiba pretty much does not rest, and will likely be putting out records long after death, literally recorded in the afterlife. I can see the headlines now, Matt Skiba Announces Collaboration with the Undead. Moving on, “Olivia” was another very enjoyable tune, and joins Skiba’s other ladies in being a brilliant, catchy rock tune (Dorothy, Aurora, Sadie, Heather, Annabelle…we won’t count Emma) “Falling Like Rain” is the epitome of the electronic influence on the album, and it’s a good song, but it’s incredibly reminiscent of “Eating Me Alive” off of This Addiction, from arrangement to melody. “How the Hell Did We Get Here” is Skiba doing was he does best. Loud and rising choruses with the most ominous verses possible, very Depeche Mode in its execution. Between the deep piano pounding and the rain drop electronics, it captures what Babylon is musically all about.
I have had a few jokes in Matt Skiba’s expense, but all that is to say that Skiba has shown us over the years that he has a very specific area of talent. Babylon is straight out of Skiba’s most powerful playbook, its fast, punk driven, and pays attention to arrangements with electronics. Lyrically it is grim; full of metaphors, the usual similes, depictions of blood stained hands, demons groping while basking in flame…the usual. What bothered me about this record was that like I said earlier, all the punks these days are going Folk, stripping down and unplugging to let fans get a glimpse of their souls. It’s great that Matt Skiba keeps it loud with the Sekrets, but on a lyrical level I just wonder if there is anything that goes on in his head or heart besides the same old Tim Burton like scenarios. No one would ask Edgar Allen Poe to write fluffy love poetry, but an Alkaline song like “Over and Out” is a prime example that Skiba has real life stories and feelings to share, but he often doesn’t. He may have expressed them in Babylon, and I missed them, but if so they are buried beneath the gothic poetry. All in all, Babylon is exactly what a huge fan of Matt Skiba (like me) would want, and it’s what they will get. The songs are tight, musically creative, loud, menacing and more important than anything…they are fun. Matt Skiba does not seem to be interested in bogging fans down in his baggage, he gives us permission to enjoy ourselves, and I can appreciate that.
The album Babylon is due out May 8th on Superball Music, but pre-order is already available on your favorite mediums like vinyl, cd and itunes. Check out the stream of the song “voices” from the album below.
Follow: @MatttSkiba @Superball_Music