Skating Polly: Chaos County Line (El Camino Media) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Skating Polly

Chaos County Line

El Camino Media

Jul 10, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


A lot can change in five years: pandemics, the rise and fall of satsuma-hued demagogues, and what has sometimes looked like the complete collapse of the music industry. However, one thing hasn’t changed: Oklahoma step-sibling trio Skating Polly’s commitment to doing things their own way. After a five-year gap, the trio follows up 2018’s Make It All Show with a double album in the shape of Chaos County Line.

In the attention deficit age of streaming, it’s a bold move to release a double album, especially one that is as eclectic as Chaos County Line. It’s not a body of work that you might exactly call cohesive; however, this is mitigated by the sheer quality of the songs written by step-sisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse. The band formed when they were just 9 and 14 respectively and were joined by Mayo’s brother Kurtis on drums in 2017. Over the years, they have evolved from prodigious young talents to respected artists as their self-described “ugly pop” has steadily evolved, gaining fans from across the musical and artistic spectrum such as Lori Barbero (Babes In Toyland), UK Musician Kate Nash, and Lord of the Rings actor Viggo Mortensen.

Chaos County Line is certainly their most accessible and pop-sounding album. It’s also one of their best, containing their most melodically sophisticated and emotionally honest songs to date. “Tiger at the Drugstore,” a song, according to Bighorse, that is about “putting all this pressure on yourself to act grown-up and pretend like everything is okay in your life,” is an outstanding example of their evolution. It’s a spine-tingling tune that radiates wistful beauty, allied to a gorgeous melody—and was surely a more obvious choice for a single than the recent “Send a Priest?”

There’s still plenty of ’90s-infused distortion, riot grrrl-style anger, and raging punky melodies present to satisfy their long-term fanbase. The trashy hick-grunge of “Baby On My Birthday,” for example, or the relentless groove of “Rabbit Food,” as well as the swaggering “Man Out There” featuring The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow. However, it is, without doubt, an album that has reaped the rewards of the step-sisters embracing a more candid approach to their songwriting. As their brother Kurt Mayo reflected, “I think on this record Kelli and Peyton were really confident in being more honest and more experimental at the same time, whereas in the past they might’ve made the lyrics more poetic in order to cloak that honesty a bit.”

Skating Polly’s strength has always been their ability to switch between styles, from raging grunge rock à la Hole and Nirvana to bubblegum punk pop, one could argue that it might be the album’s one weakness in the sense that the tracklisting can feel a little scattergun. For example, when a track like the punky “Sing Along,” which has a touch of Coming Up For Air era Penetration, is then followed by the slow-burning “Someone Like a Friend” or the bouncy relentless groove of “Double Decker” is followed by the beautiful “Charlie’s Brother,” it does have the effect of stymying the album’s momentum. But really that’s a minor quibble, as there’s absolutely no issue with the quality of the songs. Mayo and Bighorse once again demonstrate themselves to be melodically astute songwriters, able to switch styles at the flick of a switch. Would the album have been more impactful if a few songs had been shaved off? Possibly, but when Skating Polly hit the heights you can’t help but wonder why they haven’t progressed beyond their cult underground status.

Whether this album opens them up to a new audience remains to be seen, but Chaos County Line is full of warmth, sly self-deprecating humor, righteous anger, brutal honesty, and beautifully crafted melodies.

How does one even measure success in this strange and fractured musical landscape? Perhaps being able to continue to write, record, release, and tour their own music as a band in control of their own artistic direction is reward enough in and of itself. (www.skatingpolly.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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