The oozy melancholy of Chemical Tomb, the latest album from Portland’s Skull Diver, belies an almost obsessive curiosity that sisters Aly and Mandy Payne have honed over years of creative musical exploration. Full of subtle lyrics and understated flourishes, Chemical Tomb eschews some of the soundscape-y expansiveness of the group’s eponymous 2015 debut in favor of more structured, but ultimately less exacting style.
Following Skull Diver, drummer Alexandra “Zanny” Geffel joined the duo, bringing a flavor to Chemical Tomb that finds plenty of space for deft interplay. The result is a realization of a wholeness that the group exploits to its fullest potential throughout the album.
“Team Stella Fell From Grace” opens the album with a meaty bass line and a sense of driving purpose. It is perhaps the best example of straightforward rock ‘n’ roll on the album, as the group essentially works through a gnarled deconstruction of that designation throughout the rest of the tracks. “Bad Star” retains the powerful bass line, but is instead accompanied by a lighter top half of fuzzy vocals and a poppier approach to the hook. “Parasite,” one of two affecting covers on the album (Nick Drake here and the Violent Femmes in the album closer), finds the group playing with dynamics and pace, avoiding the predictable crescendos and breaks that the ear keeps expecting to hear.
Chemical Tomb seems almost as liberating for the listener as it does for the musicians. The musicianship is always apparent, while the songs themselves feel as though the outside world is being given a glimpse into the creative process.»