Joshua Powell will tell you: in the middle of the map, there’s a dive bar portal named for a Ram Dass text he considers one of the last bastions of American magic. Since his collective’s inception, this semi-mystic rambler has tracked over 900 shows across 42 states trying to map these vortexes. His bandmates have morphed along the way as chaotically as the borderlines of his genre, but ten years in, that band has coalesced. Brother drummer Jacob Powell came off the cruiseliner circuit into the summoning circle alongside Powell’s longest collaborators, Adam Shuntich and Josh Townsend, and a year’s hibernation saw the group’s timbre baptized into a furious new incarnation, surprising even themselves.
First show back, 2021: trying new songs at a college town bar called Be Here Now when a gang of kids combust into a pit of joyfully unironic, scrappy hardcore dancing. For Powell, who started the band alternating between acoustic and banjo, this was the moment his spirit reset. “It’s like I got lost for a decade worrying about what was cool, or what would get a Pitchfork writeup,” said Powell, who scrupulously tread between psych-folk and breezy indie rock for years, “when I’ve always been chasing that feeling from the DIY hardcore scene, being 17 in Florida, throwing my guitar in a church basement, screaming, sweating everywhere. I guess I thought I outgrew it or was above it somehow, but here it is still. And I love it. I’m having fun again.” Thus, “Skeleton Party” was delivered, bawling in the icky glory of harmonized guitars; where before Powell may have ventured a yelp, he has now discovered his screaming voice.
“Sad Boy at the Skeleton Party” is Powell’s first truly full band composition–each bandmate has songwriter credits. Brother Jacob’s aggressively articulate drums snake through “Bass Mountain” Townsend’s subterranean architecture, meshing mathy elements of jazz beneath Shuntich’s scathing, virtuosic leads. Powell, at the peak of his psychic powers, vividly hallucinates Halloween stories of skeletons with union jobs and a spaceman whose unrequited love for a Cthulhu devolves into backmasked guitar solos on fire. It’s also the first record they’ve ever self-produced, from home. Alchemized by the mixing wizardry of Indianapolis hero Wes Heaton, “Skeleton Party” earned the band its way onto the roster of Romanus Records, whose haunted vinyl will be available on the band’s impending unending tour. Bust your eyeliner back out–everyone’s invited to the skeleton party.