SINGLE REVIEWS: Skyler Skjelset
Everytime I Finish Writing About His Songs, Skyler Skjelset Releases Another Work Of Art
I can't keep up with Skyler Skjelset. Desperately, for the past fortnight I have attempted to describe the emotions pouring out from the impossibly generous fountain of creativity that the recent releases from this master of soundscapes have become, but finally I feel as though I have cornered him.
Over the past few weeks, Mr. Skjelset has released three singles to the world in preparation for the release of his latest solo album Back In Heaven, releasing August 28th. All three of 'Cobalt', 'The Angel' and 'Sayoko' position this upcoming LP as something to be greatly anticipated, floating wistfully between an ethereally misty cross-stitching of folk instrumentation and electronic layers, and I couldn't be more excited.
When 'Cobalt' released at the tail end of July, suddenly I had a new favourite track from 2020, but before I had the time to figure out and describe my love for the single, suddenly two more sprung up in front of me - equal in wonderful construction. It can be quite difficult to approach these three singles removed from the aesthetic of 2017's Crack-Up (which we recently ranked 2nd in our recent list of the greatest albums of the 2010s). As the guitarist for Pacific Northwest music royalty Fleet Foxes, it could be easy for some to synonymise the exploits of Skjelset to that of his longtime collaborator and friend Robin Pecknold. In truth however, Skjelset's music is very much its own independent beast.
Oriented towards explorations of expansive instrumental environments, the artistry of this creator has always emerged uniquely from the music of FF. While certain moments of Crack-Up did perhaps stand in similarity with Skjelset's quietly distinctive delicate instrumentation, with these three latest singles the musician has added further credit to his obvious capabilities as a wonderful creator, independent of his attachment to the Cascadian collective.
The design of 'Cobalt' is brilliant. Swirling ultra-processed sounds around the charm of vocal harmonies and guitar strums, the track just has so much going on. Swimming in its own echoes, 'Cobalt' sounds so incredibly at ease in just how good everything sounds. It's somehow both expansive and immediate, playing with instrumental scale and wonderfully intimate vocal deliveries. I love it. The multi-instrumental talents of Fleet Fox friend Morgan Henderson are somewhat hidden on a first listen, but after returning to the song as often as I have over the past few weeks, slowly the subtle inclusion of his dream-like woodwind softness (and a saxophone performance, which I still haven't *quite* located in the mix) is something to be celebrated. This is one of my favourite songs of the year, hands down, no questions asked.
Moving to the gorgeous matching of dreamy synths, bird chirps and acoustic guitars in the first and last moments of 'Sayoko', the song is met immediately by surprisingly chromatic chord progressions - proving simultaneously arresting and dissonant. It speaks to the "hypnotic shape" to which the track dedicates itself to. Skjelset's voice intertwines itself with harmonies provided by Julianna Barwick and Cassandra Jenkins so satisfyingly, and connected by a piano contribution from another fellow Fleet Fox (Casey Wescott) fuses into a song that leaves me desperate to hear Back In Heaven in full.
'The Angel' takes a similar approach. With Wescott again providing piano amongst the hazy layers of Skjelset's production, chords move around almost desiring to surprise the listener with imaginative songwriting decisions. The vocal performances on this track are particularly excellent, and again contribute to this incredible combination of mesmerising design, but also to an ever so slightly chilling uneasiness. Rhythmically it moves with an ever so slightly dream-pop robustness, marching with the pulse of a bass drum fading in and out of view. It's another totally different spin on Skjelset's musical style, and it's such a welcome addition to these early snippets of his latest LP.
Collectively, these three singles are a warning sign that Back In Heaven is going to be something special. Each is a perfect microcosm of precisely what it is that I find so utterly enchanting about Mr. Skjelset's creativity, but connected they are a testament to how versatile this musician really is. I cannot recommend these three songs enough.
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Skyler Skjelset: bandcamp / spotify / instagram
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in South Wales. He is also, apparently, a Fleet Foxes shill.
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