While Philadelphia-based Randall Coon has a few prior digital releases under his belt for the solo-project Skunk Hawk, as I understand it, the six-song self-titled/self-released tape is the first to receive a physical pressing. The cassette is limited to 100 copies with a pro-printed tape and two-panel j-card, and finds the multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Coon — who appeared with King Buffalo on their 2013 demo (review here) and was in Velvet Elvis at the time of their 2012 release, In Deep Time (review here); both obviously based in Upstate NY — employing a variety of gleefully strange pop textures in a meld of psychedelic folk and bedroom stoner fuzz. Interestingly, the tracklist on the j-card lists the song “Frigidaire,” which closes side two, twice. The download version (not included with the tape, but available on Bandcamp) has it listed with side one comprised of “Water Born Devil,” “High School Ball” and “All My Heart,” and side two “There Will be Another Day, Love” (listed on the tape as “Another Day”), “Lovers of Pompeii” and “Frigidaire,” though in the download version, “Lovers of Pompeii” and “Frigidaire” are the same song. The tape also lists “Stone Embrace” on side two, so maybe there are still some kinks to work out.
My working theory is that “Stone Embrace” and “Lovers of Pompeii” are the same track with a changed title, and that that song is the middle one on side two of the tape, also the most intense of the collection, and that the actual closer of the tape is “Frigidaire,” which has a pulsing bassline and howled hook, which is accidentally listed twice on the tape but doesn’t come in the download. Nonetheless, it’s kind of hard to know what’s where, but however one chooses to listen, there’s plenty to dig into. A rawer form of “There Will be Another Day, Love” appeared on Skunk Hawk‘s 2011 EP, I Fell into the Sea and into the Earth, but other than that, the material here is new, and from the Angelo Badalamenti-style pop drama of “High School Ball” to the church organ-laced rhythmic drive of “Stone Embrace/Lovers of Pompeii,” Coon never relinquishes the experimental edge in the sound. “There Will be Another Day, Love” winds up a highlight for its insistent play of fuzz guitar and keys and Neil Young-via-Arbouretum vocal performance, but the jangly oddity and blown-out singing of “All My Heart” and the subtly-drummed vulnerability of “Water Born Devil” offer likewise satisfying results even if they take different routes to get there. If it’s confusing in a practical way, Skunk Hawk is as proportionally an engaging listen, toying with the balance between fuzzy rock and off-kilter less-frenetic Man Man-style indie songwriting in a manner that few would attempt, and pulling it off while crafting a personality of its own.
One can see easily why after several other releases, Coon might see fit to make Skunk Hawk‘s Skunk Hawk the first physical pressing from the project. I hope it’s not the last. It may be tough to figure out where one is at any given moment, but somehow that makes the listener more receptive to turns like the sneering apex of “Another Day,” “High School Ball”‘s abrasive midsection feedback or the low-mixed currents of effects noise, drones and other flourish sounds that crop up throughout. It’s not a release looking to be fully understood, and that’s one of the most exciting aspects of it.