Case in point: on New Year's Eve, while at KPFA studios in Berkeley, Disaster Amnesiac had an opportunity to sort through a pile of giveaway CDs in the lobby area. The cover of In Difference, by the group Scarab, immediately caught my eye, and I quickly filed it away into a jacket pocket, hopeful that its sounds would be as cool as its cover. Having been completely unfamiliar with the group, and having spun this disc a ton of times over the past couple of weeks, Disaster Amnesiac is certainly glad that Scarab made this document.
In Difference starts off with the powerful Your Wholeness, which is propelled by a great, staggering rhythm section beat and cutting high end notes from the guitar before dropping into thicker riffs and singer Melanie Skelchy's cool vocal style. Her sound on this tune, and throughout the CD, is a dramatic spoke/sung alto that's really emotive: one gets the sense that she means what she's singin'. Additionally, there's well placed bell percussion and what sounds like a Ramayana Monkey Chant within the mix here. It's chaotic and ordered simultaneously, the way all great Rock tunes ought to be, and as such, sets the pace for this work.
Mixed right into its predecessor, Slipped keeps up the dramatic vibes more dirty riffs from the guitars, played by either M. Skelchy, Felipe Neira, or Russell Skelchy (they're all credited), more of the effective vocals, and real fine high-hat driven drumming before dipping into a keyboarded mid-section. This part provides great tension with its tom tom marching beat and sprayed lead guitar work as M. continues with her tales. Things lead back to more driving hat/cymbal pound to round this one out.
Scarab get Tex-Mex on track number three, FTA, a fusion of waltz and more driving Punk Rock, sung en Espanol by Felipe Neira or Russell Skelchy. This tune rips along with accordion sounds that I'm guessing come from the keyboard of Mark Jolly, and more great guitar/bass/drums blending; it's the style of this blend, familiar yet obviously worked up within their group dynamic, that Disaster Amnesiac is absolutely digging about this band.
Next up come the atmospherics of Yaadon, with more of Melanie on the mic. Said atmosphere comes from heavily strummed acoustic guitar and great percussive sounds of the metallic variety. Thick bassoon by Lisa Boggeri makes the mix even thicker. Yaadon has a kind of demented circus feel in its first half, before getting more reserved, with cool tremelo electric guitar to match the acoustic picking that lead back to the initial atmospheric oomph. It speaks volumes for the musical vision that Scarab had or, possibly, still has.
This Is My Crime revs on as track five, with more of that heavy waltz time, Spanish vocal demonstrativeness, and a nicely placed mid-song breakdown. It packs a lot of punch within its short duration, ripping away at what by now will surely be a nicely tattered perception of an attentive listener to In Difference.
That listener will get a bit of a break during West Wash, which commences with Jazz vibes, lonely trumpet calls, and fuzzed bass before dropping into an almost Garage Punk stomp. As Disaster Amnesiac has grooved to this one, I've imagined a group working tunes out amid engine grease and ashtrays. It has the kind of looseness within the drum arrangements that makes me want to stomp and shout and twist. Again, Scarab must be commended for their imaginative musical mash.
As opposed to the Tex-Mex of FTA, El Canoero strikes me as a bit more Angeleno, with hints of Cumbia and hard hitting single note guitar slices within the tight rhythms of the percussion section. What a great, manic ending note from Skelchy, to boot. Her singing certainly does have impact!
More of that rhythmic acumen is on display on The Big Stick, a Punk Rock rager that is moved by fuzzy bass tones, sweet ride cymbal beats, even more ripping, circular guitar riffing and some tight arrangements. It winds down with keys that evoke Black Metal in my ears. Again, Disaster Amnesiac is really impressed with Scarab's blend of disparate musical elements into a coherent, singular whole band sound.
After a goofy little sketch about a cell phone, In Difference continues with Tango de la Barba. If one wants to find a fusion of Tango and Doom Metal, one may want to look here. The guitars distort deliciously, the drums beat heavily onto the aural concrete, the damn thing just kicks righteous ass in a way that has Disaster Amnesiac thinking of the beSST South Bay stuff from, say, 1985-1991 or so. It's dipped in the sweat of Dukowski, or seems that way to me.
The Black Metal returns with Done Talking, as icy keyboards and dour chanting some high lonesome twang. The male singer sounds exhausted and emotional; it's the kind of Emo that I can handle, though, especially on drives home from work, which have featured In Difference as their soundtrack quite a bit lately.
A swift, shaker-assisted D-Beat drum groove brings things to a close on Speed to Stop. As with other tunes on the disc, Scarab do an exemplary job of using the basic tools of Punk Rock as a launching off point for music styling of their own. There is nothing stock about the ways in which they shape their tones and rhythms, and for that Disaster Amnesiac salutes them. I can imagine Speed to Stop as a high energy live set closer, and I'm saddened that I have not seen this group live.
Cursory web searches have shown me little about Scarab, except for an Amazon listing that shows In Difference as having been released in 2016, not 2006. Are they still making music together? Have they been long-gone as a working band? Either way, Disaster Amnesiac is very glad that they documented these songs.
Can anyone let me know of their fate?