REVIEW: Matt Skiba and the Sekrets – Babylon

Matt-Skiba-and-the-Sekrets-Babylon-artwork

Artist: Matt Skiba and the Sekrets
Album: Babylon
Genre: Rock
Label: Superball Music

On paper, this could come across as an unremarkable group jamming session involving members of Alkaline Trio, AFI, and My Chemical Romance. Yet Babylon is no such thing. Far from an indulgent explosion of pop-rock posturing, this is a mature, controlled, and confident release. It is conceived and executed with the richly evocative style one associates with all of these bands but perhaps more particularly with Alkaline Trio, which is unsurprising as Babylon is more or less entirely Skiba’s project. The songs are immediately and uproariously catchy, but he steers them all with a grim and unfaltering authority. Combining the familiar ingredients of shamelessly pop riffs and big choruses with darker and more lingering lyrics, this is hardly a novel or groundbreaking exercise. It does however have all the confidence and completeness of a songwriter famed for lush rock anthems, and its charms are numerous and immense.

“Voices” wastes no time in launching the album, with vibrant and bouncy guitars working their way through easy notes. Skiba’s vocals are solemn and intent and add a sombre intensity to the swell of the music. A brief moment of reflection in the song’s latter stages makes everything more atmospheric and hints at the album’s more pensive origins. It segues neatly into “All Fall Down,” which explodes with the same indefatigable energy. The drums add momentum and vigour early on, while the echoing sobriety of the singing adds a palpable melancholic undertone. The music swells and erupts next to these emotive touches, creating a gorgeous harmony at once pristine and unnerving. Everything is brimming with life and absolutely arresting, but the absence of similarly rambunctious vocals makes one take this more seriously. This may be a familiar and much-vaunted recipe for success, but Skiba has a certain gift for infusing carefree anthems with a mature twist, and Babylon is a stringent example of it.

“Luciferian Blues” sets its lyrical imagery to animated, gruelling music and one of the best choruses on the album. “The End of Joy” is magnificent – robust and riveting, its use of piano keys to add a piercing, glassy harmony in the verses is sumptuous. The chorus captures a bittersweet poignancy and provides a natural crescendo. “You” is a perfect follow-up, charging its sound with rich and sweeping sentiment and adding a ghostly female presence during the chorus for obvious, yet immensely pretty, angst. “Olivia” has a more overt darkness, though it risks coming across as slightly strained and dreary at times. The musical sprawl is relentless however, and the breakdowns are lush.

“Falling Like Rain” is the odd one out on the album, with a perverse electronica vibe that makes it sound like an 80s throwback. Yet, this works beautifully – the otherworldly synths sound perfect next to the monotone vocals and the kooky effects harness a lot of the musical strengths. It seems a lot more serious than the other songs but the quirks lend it colour and distinction, and the appeal is infectious. “How the Hell Did We Get Here?” also uses some synth notes to create sinister and pointed undertones, though the song evolves into something a lot more passionate and ravenous.

“Angel of Deaf” features the album’s best vocal performance, if only because the acoustic approach allows Skiba to dominate. The song showcases the startling depth and power of his vocals, creating a curiously earthy, organic vibe that stands apart from the rushing cacophony of the previous songs. With the instruments scaled back, the raw emotion and honesty is like a sucker punch. It’s stirring and emotive but abidingly mature, ending the album with haunting poignancy.

Babylon is a thrill and delight to absorb and a testament to Skiba’s talents. It showcases all of the gifts for which he has become well-known, but also evidences a growing maturity and flair for rugged, stimulating songs. Not to undermine the contributions of Hunter Burgan or Jarrod Alexander, but the writing is Skiba’s, and it’s his singular vision that lends this album its grace.

SCORE: 9/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • Joseph Rhogin

    Great review.  You took these words right out of my mouth… ”
    unfaltering, 
    solemn, 
    sombre, 
    pensive origins, 
     indefatigable, 
    sobriety, 
    palpable melancholic, 
    unnerving, brimming, 
    sumptuous, 
    poignancy, 
    infectious, 
    ravenous, 
    cacophony “