Zoloto (DL-12016 – CD LP 2004)
Skooshny, whose name is Russian for “boring”, started out in Los Angeles in the early ’70s and played together for six years without performing live. There’s no flash or pretension in anything they do. Their website and press releases are simple and down to earth.
So here’s what you know about Skooshny so far: they are boring and simple. However, “boring” and “simple” have nothing to do with their music. Zoloto, a nominal “best of” compilation of the group’s wistful psych-pop, offers ample opportunities to dig into their rich, multilayered work. Opener “Even My Eyes” begins with swirls of layered instrumentation, formulating a vivid, surreal texture. Mark Breyer’s vocals hint at despair, longing and unhappiness — his natural tone shifts easily from smooth to gruff. “Even My Eyes” is the strongest track; Bruce Wagner’s impressive guitar work rolls alongside David Winogrond’s larger-than-life drumming and Breyer’s silky vocals. “Beautiful Bruise”, one of the album’s four new tracks, is a stepladder of melody; it scatters up and down scales, complete with organ and guitar solos. The overlapping layers create an ethereal texture reminiscent of The Byrds’ spacy psychedelia — stirring stuff.
Skooshny may have missed out on major attention — it’s easy when your name means “boring” — but Zoloto could be their long-awaited breakthrough. After thirty-odd years, don’t they deserve it?
– Ryan Humm, Splendid
Usually the kids plunking away on their guitars in their makeshift garage studio are about as good as their meager entourage (composed mainly of girlfriends) would suggest, and even worse when the same kids have grown to middle age while their aesthetic has ossified where they left it in the Pleistocene era, along with their hairlines. Skooshny’s latest release looks for all the world to be one of those “just-for-the-fun-of-it” releases by the same garage-dwelling, middle-aged hacks with nothing better to do than take the ol’ Rickenbacker for a spin around their suburban cul-de-sac.
Formed in L.A. in 1971 and self-described as “boring” (supposedly this is “skooshny” translated from Russian), the band never took off for the simple reason that none of the band members had a car, and by the end of the decade they disbanded. Their languid, paisley pop tunes were re-discovered in the dank collectors’ bins of psychedelia’s English motherland by Bill Forsyth of Minus Zero Records, who reissued Skooshny’s rare recordings in the early ’90s. Having apparently decided to pick up their career where they left off, though still sans voiture, their newest album Zoloto (translation: “Gold”) is a retrospective of their work plus four new songs (“Beautiful Bruise”, “I See You Now”, “Angel With a Devil’s Heart”, “You Paint My World”). With an album cover featuring a satiric title, posed band photo, and vaguely anachronistic Cold War overtones, the album screams bourgeois self-indulgence; but, what it whispers below the garish veneer is a brilliant cacophony of genre-defiant pop that broods over California traffic-induced white noise and utopian dreams of folk pop psychedelic transcendence. Slipping past the album’s chintzy cardboard sleeve, the listener finds apt comparisons with the Byrds, post-hallucinogenic Monkees, modern sincere mock rockers Ween. and awkward shoe-gazers the world over.
Most retrospective albums show some sort of aesthetic progress over time; rather Zoloto presents Skooshny’s career as more or less one cohesive musical concept rooted in bright tongue-in-cheek pop in a rainbow of psychedelic colors from sunny yellow ballads to blue-tinged melancholy tunes and occasionally red hot rock. Yet, this is no nostalgic romp through a mawkish field of daisies and love beads. Skooshny is peering at us through the haze of smog that has since descended upon the ruins of Haight-Asbury. The song “Beautiful Bruise” recalls the pensive guitar strumming and jangly keyboards of hippie-era greats the Byrds, yet the melancholy deadpan vocals transform the colors of peace and love into the “big, bad, bright, beautiful bruise” that has since taken its place. Skooshny are particularly adept at moving through these kinds of juxtapositions, and slogging through the complexities of idealized imagery and monotonous, lumbering decay.
One of the finer tracks on the album is “I See You Now”, a haunting and poignant ballad that harnesses pulsing guitars and a gut wrenching chorus that churns with musical complexity, translating straight pop form into a mixture of meter changes and layers of contrasting timbres. On the incendiary track “It Hides More Than It Tells”, Skooshny’s glum shoe-gazing pose is transformed into a brooding tension that explodes into a tight garage rocker, whose youthful roughshod energy bleeds through raucous percussion and fuzz guitars in a gratifying flurry of pop rock brilliance. As the band explores this tension further on songs that range from “No Life Story” and its urban cowboy spaghetti western feel to mournful folk ballad “Dessert for Two”, Skooshny stakes its territory on that squeamish tickly spot somewhere between the intuitive ever loving heart and the guilty gluttonous pleasures in the bowels of the human beast.
Yet with all the layers of irony, the lyric double takes, and the bitter sweet harmonies, Skooshny never confesses their true intensions. Do they rock, or do they mock rock? At times their lyric opacity is a welcome vacation from contemporary prurient pop that loves to revel in lyric titillation, as lyrics like “Yellows and greens / My teeth through your jeans” dress their sensual reverie in tasteful undergarments. However, sometimes this opacity is simply unintelligible and mildly ridiculous, as on the chronically mediocre “Clickin’ My Fingers”, where one lyric quips “Sterno in a cup / Drink up” and the redundant “Chicken Little was right / The sky is falling”. While at times the album seems to fall into a cycle of self-quotation that is made all the worse considering the album’s span includes what Skooshny considers their retrospective best, more often their apparent honesty and insistent aversion to pretense make it nearly impossible to conclude they have anything but the best and most mind-boggling intensions. Like Ween after them, and now before them, Skooshny’s music dwells in the twilight zone of popular culture between authenticity and parody that exasperates some and thrills others. Whether Skooshny’s latest release is zoloto or merely skooshny, this is a band that is worth a listen.
– Katie Zerwas, PopMatters
Imagine – a Los Angeles band that has been a semi-ongoing concern since the mid-1970s obtains cult status in Europe, remains all but unsniffed Stateside and then releases a gigantic 20-track retrospective, replete with old, new and previously unreleased tracks. Well, my friends, meet Skooshny.
Plying a sparkling brew of folk-tinged, twangy pop rock that conjures up the pristine conceits of The Kinks and The Byrds (albeit occasionally brushed with washes that include wild violins) while dancing on the edges of Pink Floyd, R.E.M., and even, dare it be said, Lords Of The New Church, this trio may have released three albums on a budget that make a shoestring look grand, but Skooshny certainly don’t sound like it.
While the band’s earlier songs (late-1970s), “Crossing Double Lines,” “It Hides More Than It Tells” and “Ceiling To The Lies,” certainly sound more of their era than later efforts, their break between old and newer doesn’t stand out. Newer songs such as “Even My Eyes” evoke a delightful alt-guitar fuzz, while others (“Clickin’ My Fingers”) fall somewhere between the two. Add the Michael Penn-produced “Dessert For Two” and “Masking The Moon,” and the resulting Zoloto is a startling sonic array.
Although Skooshny may well have been lost in the leviathan grind of contemporary music, they remain pure and untouched – an earnest sidestep into pop rock.
– Amy Hanson, Goldmine
( MZR – 4 CD LP 2000)
The story of Skooshny should be a familiar one to most of you. The LA band put out two wonderful singles in the late 70’s that went unnoticed at the time. Bill Forsyth of Minus Zero picked up on these gems and finally tracked down the band, only to find they had an album’s worth of recordings just gathering dust, including some that featured none other than Michael Penn guesting on chamberlin and backing vocals. Bill decided to release this material to much critical acclaim and this spurred on the band to reform and start recording new material. The result was Even My Eyes an album even better than what had gone before.
Now comes Water, the latest outing by this much loved combo. Mark Breyer has a soft and individual voice that along with his melodic and baroque song writing skills are the trademarks that make Skooshny so special. Operating on a shoestring the band are still capable of their own brand of magic even after all these years. Flawed opens the album in perfect 60’s tinged pop style and could easily have come straight off a Green Pajama’s platter. The Water Song is enchanting with it’s twisting multi-layered structure and beautiful playing throughout, capturing the band at its very best. Skooshny are still one special band!
– Mick Dillingham, Bucketfull of Brains
Water, Skooshny’s third full-length offering, is yet another in a long line of excellent discs from a bumper crop of indie pop albums that were released in 2000. The power pop trio (augmented by studio guest musicians) penned nine of the ten songs on the disc, with the “borrowed” tune a terrific cover of Gene Clark’s “For Me Again” (from the Byrds’ Preflyte album). The opening song, “Flawed”, introduces the listener to the guitar-oriented, layered pop songs that follow. “Sad Summer Spring” stands out as a Byrds-inspired ballad and “Lullabye” has an echo chamber/psych-pop sound that is reminiscent of Rich Hopkins & The Luminaros’ body of work. In fact, lead vocalist Mark Breyer’s voice sounds a little like Hopkins. “Desert Rain” could pass for an Arthur Lee/Love ballad, and the fusion of 80’s power pop with 90’s guitar crunch on “Kate’s Green Phone” will evoke pleasant memories of the Amboy Dukes. We may not hear from Skooshny as often as we like, but when we do it merits a serious listening.
– Eric Sorenson, Amplifier
EVEN MY EYES
( MZR – 3 CD LP 1996)
Co-produced by Beach Boys engineer Jeff Peters, this album contains all four tracks from 1992’s celebrated Holy Land EP.
Skooshny are the original slackers; They’ve managed only an EP and a single since 1975, collected with some earlier demos on a Minus Zero CD in 1991. Despite the underproduction, the songwriting talents of Mark Breyer and Bruce Wagner nevertheless shone bright on that record. Such was the reaction they were encouraged to reform and record Holy Land, included here with their first full album.
Thankfully, this one is a well-produced mature affair showcasing a band who have discovered a rich and potent sound all their own. Take the harmonies of Big Star, the wistful quirkiness of R.E.M. circa Life’s Rich Pageant, Stray Gator -styled Neil Youngian passion, the sinewy guitar thrash of Blondie and smear it all over 14 tracks, and the result is that rarest of breeds, an album that sounds totally self-contained and complete. It’s also an album of plaintive paeans to love gone wrong, loves that should have been and loves that might have been. Pain, heartache and loss never sounded so gorgeous.
– Cliff Jones, MOJO
Californian trio Skooshny formed in the mid-1970s and recorded two singles before disbanding in 1979, too late for psychedelic guitar-pop’s first wave and too soon for REM’s 1980’s revival. A cache of unreleased material comprised 1991’s eponymous Skooshny compilation LP, and a smattering of rave reviews provoked a reunion and the recording of Even My Eyes.
The title track opens up the record with a gorgeous lead part – echoing the Byrds’ Eight Miles High – and some insistent Television-style rhythm guitar work, the perfect 1960’s/1970’s fusion and an irresistible era-defying classic.
…Even My Eyes, a labour of love for the tiny Minus Zero label, deserves a wider audience than that of the record collector fanboys for whom Skooshny’s convoluted history alone is just too romantic to resist.
– Stewart Lee, (London) Sunday Times
(MZR -1 CD LP 1991)
This brilliant 17 track compilation brings to an expectant public the very best of the, until now, mostly unreleased output of this Los Angeles based outfit built around the individual songwriting talents of one Mark Breyer. The story of Skooshny is not one of your standard rock & roll flash. Formed initially in 1971 by Breyer and drummer Winogrond, they remained very much a bedroom band and it wasn’t until 1975, with the addition of guitarist Bruce Wagner, that the band started recording in earnest but sporadic style in various, low-budget studios. They never did get as far as playing live, but they did release a four song EP and a single before splitting in 1981 – ironically, just as the type of sixties-styled melodic guitar music that they played started to come back into vogue. Skooshny were in their time a fish out of water; five years before or five years later they would have been acclaimed for their quality and the depth of the music they created, a tiny legacy which wasn’t to be appreciated until the more appropriate musical climate of the REM & Rain Parade-ish 1980s. Enter Bill Forsyth of rock record emporium Minus Zero Records, who contacted the ex-members with a view to obtaining any spare copies of the, by now, scarce vinyl for resale to his more knowing customers. A small wealth of unreleased material came to light and with it, the idea of this release, consisting of the six previously available songs plus the remainder of their recorded excursions into the studios of the late 70s. Proof, as with our own Mr Frond and the maverick musical archivist R. Stevie Moore, that a huge recording budget and multi-tracked digitalized technology are not essential to producing music of depth and quality. “Fever Dreams” is very melodically and methodically sixties in feel, beautifully played and imaginatively recorded. “The Mood In Me” resonates charm and is underpinned with a lovely harpsichord sound – lacking the instrument and means of getting one, the band played it on a 12-string and speeded up the results to achieve the desired effect. Once again, the leanness of their budget forcing them to experiment and apply intelligence to the venture. “Crossing Double Lines” is coated in the fluid guitar playing of Bruce Wagner and harmony vocals of a Left Banke-ish hue, while “You Bring Me Magic” is the type of superb melody that the Bevis comes up with when in his Byrds mode. “The Ceiling To The Lies” is a real classic, quite overwhelming and yet understated at the same time with again the 12-string foundation built on high by Wagner’s tasty guitar leads. Nearly all of the 17 tracks are of comparable quality. Let’s just hope that the response to this marvellous collection is as it should be and, as mentioned in the sleeve notes, acts as a catalyst to a Skooshny reformation and a new album. In the meantime an immediate investigation into the treasure trove that Skooshny left behind last time is highly recommended.
– Mick Dillingham, Ptolemaic Terrascope
This debut release from the collector’s shop Minus Zero is suitably obscure – and enticing. Taped between 1975 and 1981, it documents the joint recording career of LA inhabitants Mark Breyer, Bruce Wagner and David Winogrond, who cut one single, one ep and a bunch of demos with the help of friends like singer-songwriter Michael Penn (brother of Sean). Skooshny (Russian for ‘boring’, so they say) was the successor to Brevity, Breyer and Winogrond’s early seventies band, who auditioned for Frank Zappa’s Bizarre concern and recorded “Cakewalk”, included here amongst the later recordings. And the music? We were quoted REM and American sixties bands like the Byrds as comparisons: The REM similarity is immediately apparent, with Breyer’s vocals on the opening cut (from 1977!) recalling Stipe’s patented murmur. Otherwise, there’s no obvious ancestor for this music, though it sounds ultra-American, in the best possible way – full of interesting melodies with unexpected sharp corners, vocals that range from the raw to the lushly harmonised, with sparky guitar riffs. This isn’t power-pop, or folk-rock or new wave, or any simple categorisations like that: it’s Skooshny music. Is it a classic? Well I haven’t lived long enough with it to find out but it is certainly one of the most intriguing and enjoyable albums I’ve heard in a long while.
– Record Collector
It Hides More Than It Tells/Cakewalk
Ceiling To The Lies/Odd Piece In The Puzzle (US Alien EP 1978)
You Bring Me Magic/ Crossing Double Lines (US Alien 1979)
Here’s what some people said about their first two self-released records, way back then…
“…a tantalizing element of lyrical and musical mystery…fascinating songs worthy of multiple playings…the song strength is remarkable…”
– Ken Barnes, New York Rocker
“…does stand up to repeated listenings…reminiscent of the folkies-turned rockers of the early SF and Bosstown scenes, with a touch of Anglo shading as well.”
– Jim Green, Trouser Press
“…an incredible fusion of British mod and the rock end of folk-rock…a follow-up is more than welcome.”
– Mike McDowell, Blitz
“…as if the Younger Than Yesterday Byrds met the Kinks Face To Face…”
– Ivan Grozny, LA Press
“…a direction few others are going in at the moment (next big thing?)…refreshing, make a point to hear this!”
– Ed Singer, High Voltage