Review || The Lawrence Arms - "Skeleton Coast"

The Lawrence Arms are set to release their seventh full length record titled “Skeleton Coast” on July 17th of the year 2020 through Epitaph Records.

If you take a look at The Lawrence Arms currently, everything makes sense; the very diverse trio is well known, recognized and respected by everyone in the larger halls of the punk rock community, has found a steady home within the biggest independent label of our times, produces successful records and highlights some of the biggest punk stages in the world. And yet, there is nothing about them that reads “big band” on any level. The two sonically different personalities fronting The Lawrence Arms - Chris McCaughan on guitar/smooth vocals and Brendan Kelly on bass/uniquely rough vocals - and the musical genius of Neil Hennessy on the drums have paved their own way since day one, out of the basements of Chicago Illinois, back when everything surrounding the band seemed trivially incomprehensible. 

I remember seeing the band live in Athens, Greece circa 2004, touring for “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. There were maybe 70 people in attendance, which I believe was totally normal for The Lawrence Arms at least across Europe, where skate punk was slowly losing its touch and metalcore and heavier genres started to prevail; their aggressively emotional sound and approach to punk rock was basically non-existent around the world, let alone Greece. I can’t really know how Fat Wreck Chords was able to see the greatness in them -as well as the person bringing them over here to play and probably losing a fair amount of money- but, in a peculiar kind of persistence and turn of musical events with the slow rise of The Fest culture, the release of "Oh! Calcutta!" in 2006 propelled the band into special places amongst punk rock pundits at first and basically everyone else in years to follow. By the time "Metropole" was released in 2014 -a first on the current mega-label- the world was ready to be enamoured by The Lawrence Arms. The show in Greece was phenomenal by the way. 

For album number seven, the band literally went out of their proverbial comfort zone which is the city of Chicago and travelled to El Paso, Texas for a strict timeline of two weeks, again working with what could be described the fourth wheel of this machine, namely Matt Allison. His work is clearly indicative through a ton of elements on "Skeleton Coast", as is the stellar continuation of classic top shelf material by the band itself. From the opening track "Quiet Storm" the tone for the entire record is set and it is one exciting 34-minute ride. The Lawrence Arms retain their thematology for a kind of despair and hopelessness which is always present in their songwriting. Power chords and fast music are all there, as is the imperative distinction of the two voices which have basically made the band what it is and form a unique bond. While "Skeleton Coast" fits right in with TLA discography, it is evident that the trip to Texas has given many new elements to this specific body of work; many natural environmental sounds have been incorporated into the songs, giving them an atmospheric aesthetic. Basically, the record is as good as any previous work but with a more “American western” touch; that is the distinction I’m feeling. My favourite moments on “Skeleton Coast” are "Quiet Storm", "Planes, Trains and Automobiles", "Under Paris", "Goblin Foxhunt" and "Coyote Crown" but essentially the entire LP feels like a complete flow from start to finish. 

In the end, “Skeleton Coast” is another fine addition to my collection of records which I listen to whenever I don’t feel like reading something, another chapter in a great book The Lawrence Arms are still writing. 

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