The Lawrence Arms - Skeleton Coast (Cover Artwork)

The Lawrence Arms

Skeleton Coast (2020)

Epitaph Records

Chicago trio the Lawrence Arms rarely disappoint, and have made a brilliant and retrospective return with Skeleton Coast.

While the outfit's release dates have stretched six and a half years since 2014's Metropole, and approaching eight long years earlier with Fat Wreck's Oh! Calcutta! in 2006, the sheer anticipation of another full length is sharpened to a needle with the delicate intro of "Quiet Storm." The track fires open to an energetic, but poignant Chris McCaughan standard, complete with gravely backups from bassist Brendan Kelly, and drummer Neil Hennessy's particular halftime kick patterns that define the Lawrence Arms. Kelly then takes over the vocals on the heavy hitting "Planes Trains and Automobiles," clocking in at just 1:55.

"Belly Of The Whale" is another terrific and fun (and short) number from the bassist, taking a carefree sip before diving into much more serious overtures in McCaughan's "Dead Man's Coat" and "Pigeons and Spies," the latter showcasing Brendan Kelly's signature rasp, from whispers to shouts, and back again. Previously leaked "Last Last Words" is a defining moment of the LP, reigning loud ebow post-production to a total bummer Chris song, fantastic. The song slowly rises in optimism, only to be completely dismantled by the thrasher "Demon," and immediately reassembled by the opening line of "Ghostrider," defining the album as a whole; "I drove the highways of a skeleton coast/Salt and sea, tapped mysteries into the keys."

"How To Rot" is another fun heavy hitter, devolving into perhaps some of the strangest vocal production in TLA's vocal history, and perhaps showing us a glimpse of three best friends recording their seventh studio album under the stars of a pecan farm. "Under Paris" and "Goblin Fox Hunt" continue the Chris/Brendan tracklist juxtaposition, as does the rest of the record, with EpiFat's most historically opposite, but tethered vocalists, trading moods and hooks directly into the group chorus and finish line of album closer "Coyote Crown."

Skeleton Coast was engineered at the world-class pecan orchard/recording studio complex known as Sonic Ranch in rural Tornillo, Texas, and the resulting mix of unique guitar tones and vintage audio equipment presents one of the highest levels of clarity in Epitaph's last fifteen years of releases. While I will let everyone else rank this killer album among the many greats of the discography, you have to hand it to the band, twenty one-plus years active without a single lineup change or false step forward. Thank you Chris, Brendan, and Neil, for your excellent work.