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The Haul: Head of Skulls!' The Liquid Ball EP

Head of Skulls' The Liquid Ball EP

It’s been five years since Pinebender’s mammoth 2006 LP, Working Nine to Wolf. How long those years felt depends on whether your clock ticks away at Pinebender speed, a self-advertised 58 beats-per-minute. For me, it feels like decades since I saw the group decimate Great Scott in Allston. (At said show I requested, with the utmost sincerity, a four-song set list comprised of “Parade,” “Fifth and Last,” “There’s a Bag of Weights in the Back of My Car,” and “Simp Twister,” which would have filled a 45-minute slot. Baritone guitarist Stephen Howard said they’d toyed with the concept.) I’ve gotten tremendous shelf-life from the glacially paced guitar heroism of the group’s four releases, but sometime in 2009 I went into withdrawal.

Naturally I had my ear to the ground on Pinebender-related projects, checking out Howard’s solo project Quieting Syrup (Songs about a Sick Boy on Lovitt, Daytrotter session here) and guitarist/vocalist Chris Hansen’s acoustically oriented Paletazo songs on MySpace (particularly the lovely “Nothing Wrong with Love”), but news of Hansen’s Head of Skulls! slipped through my nets. That’s the high price of living too long outside of the Midwest, where I likely would have picked up The Liquid Ball EP upon its 2008 release rather than a recent trip to Reckless (which seems to be the lone place you can acquire a physical pressing of this one-side LP, although it's available digitally through the usual outlets).

For Head of Skulls!, Hansen joined up with Noah Leger, the powerhouse drummer from Hurl, Milemarker, Taking Pictures, and Thee Speaking Canaries, and bassist Allison Hollihan, formerly of Atombombpocketknife (who has since been replaced by Chicago scene veteran Pete Croke, who joins Leger and Howard in Tight Phantomz). This lineup confirms the near certainty that Head of Skulls! play faster than Pinebender, since Hansen would need to acquire one or both of Chris Brokaw and Doug Scharin to slow things down even further.

The Liquid Ball EP blasts through its first three songs in the seven minutes that would comprise the average Pinebender song. “Ghost of a Wreck” is a Hot Snakes-paced rocker, with Hansen’s barked delivery reminding me of Slint’s Tweez played at 45 RPM. (That’s in contrast to my usual comment that Pinebender sounds like a Dinosaur Jr. 45 played at 33.3.) “Gold Tooth” rifles along with garage-punk intensity until hitting its Leger-led bridge. “The Cave” seethes with a post-hardcore nastiness.

The EP’s closing track, “Winter Witch,” rewrites the script, letting the song stretch out to nearly nine minutes, but its first half is a showcase for Leger’s floor-shaking fills. The second half of the song stretches out with some familiar Pinebender chord progressions, but doom resonates with each down-stroke.

At 16:15, The Liquid Ball EP lasts only a few minutes longer than the lead track from Pinebender’s Working Nine to Wolf, but Head of Skulls! make their presence felt in that short span. For those itching for another dose, the group’s debut LP, You Became Your Mind, was finally released last year after sitting on the shelf since 2008. In hindsight, it’s a good thing I didn’t know about Head of Skulls! until now—having to wait several years instead of several weeks to hear another batch of songs would have only added to my Pinebender withdrawal.