When Milwaukee’s most wiry and hyperactive power trio Call Me Lightning released their debut The Trouble We’re In on hardcore label Revelation, it seemed somewhat out of place. Given a roster of bands who sound nothing less than brutal, menacing and even, at times, horrifying, Call Me Lightning’s spastic Minutemen-inspired punk was nothing short of an anomaly. Not that it was any detriment to the band, Trouble rocked hard and, for me, personally, was a joyous discovery in 2004. Three years later, CML have made the leap to Frenchkiss Records, a home that makes a lot more sense for the band, as their danceable take on underground punk is much closer to Les Savy Fav than Will Haven. Whether the label has anything to do with it or not, Soft Skeletons, the band’s second release, is a great leap forward for the band, both in production and in songwriting.
On The Trouble We’re In, Call Me Lightning made the biggest sound one could ask for from a guitar-bass-drums trio. Avoiding excessive overdubs, Nathan Lilley, Bill Kutsch and Shane Hochstetler merely rocked their hardest, guitar and basslines weaving in and out of one another like cobras emerging from a basket, while frantically driving beats propelled their songs into an admirable level of limb-flailing craziness. Soft Skeletons continues in this direction, the trio’s jerky interplay made all the more crisp and hard-hitting with some production aid from Greg Norman.
In addition to being more impressive sonically, Soft Skeletons shows Call Me Lightning at a new creative peak, their punk rock boundaries expanding ever wider into the realm of badass rock `n’ roll pomp. Check the handclaps and drum stomp of opener “Meet the Skeletons”; even its angular riffs can’t hide the fact that it just wants to strut its sweet stuff in some tight leather pants. “Billion Eyes” is a little closer to the dance punk of Les Savy Fav, albeit with a group-sung chorus of “we are the shattered truth/the broken pieces.” The anthemic roar of “Bottles and Bottles” finds a happy medium between Shellac and Billy Idol, never letting up on the abrasive riffs, but offsetting them with an invigorating “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!”
“Beaming Streaks” contains a similarly fierce chorus, driven by Kutsch’s insistent, linear basslines and Lilley’s plea, “let me sleep where I lie.” The epic title track is melodically reminiscent of Ted Leo’s “The Angel’s Share,” while lyrically takes on more of a fantasy feel, Lilley spitting lines like “you can live as a ghost” and “you will lose your love to a stronger man who can bear the cross.” The main riff in “Nobody Dies” recalls Ian McKaye’s furious axe-work on Fugazi’s “Bed for the Scraping,” though this track lays out more of a fuck-all philosophy: “there’s no time to waste, so let’s get wasted.”
With a shower and a shave, Call Me Lightning sound even better than they did on their raw, yet promising debut. Soft Skeleton doesn’t gloss over the blemishes, necessarily, but what worked for the band the first time around is made all the more prominent, leaving us with one powerful, fist-pumping follow-up. This is still heavy stuff, though, so if you have a soft skeleton of your own, you may want to stock up on calcium before subjecting yourself to their hard-hitting anthems.
Les Savy Fav – 3/5
Hot Hot Heat – Make Up the Breakdown
The Nation of Ulysses – The 13-Point Plan to Destroy America
MP3: “Billion Eyes”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.