“There is no past, there is no future, I’m free to live at last,” Chris McCaughan sings in an accepting tone. These words open The Lawrence Arms’ new LP, Skeleton Coast which is out now on Epitaph Records. Brendan Kelly harmonizes in tiers with McCaughan akin to their most recent tour-mates, Bad Religion. Neil Hennessy catches every moment in between with bright, brilliant drum fills. And though written many months ago, the lyrics are omnipresent. Death is coming, live in the present. We can’t predict what the future holds, and the past can’t be waxed, so there’s no time like now to live.
The Lawrence Arms release material on their own terms. The albums seem to come from a place of inspiration as opposed to record deals reliant on feeding the industry mill. Fans have longed for a new album since the 2014 release of Metropole and this installation is a natural extension with new approaches to add depth to the band’s evolution. “Ghost Writer” is such a track that stood out upon first listen with (what I assume is) McCaughan howling like a ghost wolf at each chorus. The pitch and flow add an eerie sweetness to the self-doubting lyrics of an anxious writer. The howl haunts the track, and it remains with the listener long after the track has ended.
“Goblin Fox Hunt” begins with growling guitars and the powerful rasp of Kelly chasing his enemies. It gallops with Hennessy’s snare drums during the 75-second chase. Resolute, the song winds down shortly after with quieter cymbals and guitar notes caught that capture the hollow emotion of The Cure. It is another segment unanticipated with a Lawrence Arms album, yet finds a comfortable place within their Coast.
Where Metropole interspersed street violins recorded on a cell phone, Skeleton Coast wanders into the tumultuous tones of the album with bellowing whales and a cast of lamenting animals. “How To Rot” drops in filtered, pinched vocal samples that are familiar to Kelly’s side project in Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds. Many tracks here on Skeleton Coast end on a ringing-out tone. These combined elements develop the band’s Coast as an uninhabitable land of detritus.
The vibe is very fitting to our times, with different species struggling through a cache of environmental decay and pandemic. As with every Lawrence Arms album, this approach doesn’t leave the listener despondent and down from addressing heavy material. Instead, there is a sonic and lyrical arpeggio of empathy that rings through. Skeleton Coast is the album we all need in 2020.