[sic] Magazine

Skull Practitioners – Negative Stars

Old dogs, it seems, can learn new tricks for the Skull Practitioners line-up includes psychedelic lifer Jason Victor, lead guitarist of 80s Paisley outfit The Dream Syndicate (and many others). Alongside Kenneth Levine and Alex Baker, Victor now follows up a four-track EP from back in 2014 and a 2019 12” with this debut LP, Negative Stars.

Unsettled on who would take vocals for much of their existence, the trio are now content to let Victor and Levine share the duty, whoever having written the track also taking the mic – instrumentals excluded, of course. Accordingly, Negative Stars is a varied and surprising listen, musically as well as lyrically, as each brings their own style as well as sound, Levine typically overseeing harder, more aggressive concoctions, Victor, perhaps predictably, catchier doses of garage, punk and their hybrids.

Levine’s “What Now” thus pairs improvised heavy-psych with hardcore aggression, his rasping bark and teeth-bared snarl a thrilling counterpoint to the throaty bass, doomy drums and metallic guitar shards that earlier define his “Dedication”. Victor is harder to pin down, freewheeling from the free-form garage-punk of “Exit Wounds”, to the wistful, faithfully grey post-punk of “Ventilation”, and then on to the harmonised garage-psych of “LEAP”, a fizzy, swoonsome number that brings Black Lips to mind, if only they came from Austin rather than Atlanta. In turn, the instrumentals roll through feedback-scorched heartland rock, bone-rattling grooves and heavy chug.

Negative Stars remains, however, coherent throughout – a greasy, all-you-can-eat world buffet experience no doubt bad for health, but deeply satisfying after a couple of pints. It’s no coincidence the band excel on the live circuit where the experience, tangentially, is much the same. No dog’s dinner, there’s life aplenty in these old boys yet.

Best track: “Dedication”

~Negative Stars is released 20th January 2023 via In The Red.~