Tom Skinner is either a lot smarter or a lot more demented than the average session drummer. Having worked with the likes of Finn Peters, Matthew Herbert and the Owiny Sigoma Band - the European/African fusion group that you can actually listen to - he’s done a lot more than just play tom-tom beats, absorbing ideas from his assignments and shaping them into this LP. Hello Skinny is a collage of bass, banjo, guitars and electronica, switching between jazzy IDM sketches and folk music. Everything is underscored with Skinner’s live drums, whose nimbleness matches the breadth of his ideas.
Although he makes Hello Skinny as unique-sounding as he can, Skinner also keeps it listenable, his hybrid sounds coming across as warm rather than overpowering. ‘Venus’ is a relaxing instrumental built from glistening guitar and banks of stylophone, like chilling out with Akron/Family, while ‘Aquarius’ introduces Skinner’s live drumming over submarine beeps, digital bass and a tornado siren, somehow all combining into a melody. Each of his experiments is driven by fun, with several demonstrating a strong commercial edge: ‘Foot Tap’s strings, bells, guitar and clicks are like a choir of buskers, capable of winning over the Radio 2 crowd.
However, sometimes combining conventional instruments isn’t enough, and Skinner goes a little overboard in his mission to fascinate the listener. ‘Bump’s warm white noise and honking sax are like the Mah Ná Mah Ná death skit from Jam, so demented it risks breaking up the funky rhythm it’s created. The title track is even stranger; a dirge about a Salad Fingers-like nutter called Skinny, set to the rhyme of 'Three Little Pigs'. Voices mewl in the background while Skinner taps on tin cans, grumbling over the looped bass that ”Skinny was born in the bathtub/And grew so incredibly thin/That even the end of an eye-dropper/Sucked him in!”. For a moment everything screams in harmony but it’s difficult to stay engaged, even more so on ‘Knot Blue’ which takes vocoders and wah-wah guitar and loses them in a spastic, scrambling beat.
Fortunately Skinner’s melodies shine through, and keep the moments of languid horror on Hello Skinny in check. It’s not his objective to spook out the hardiest of Pink Floyd fans, and his record is never less than atmospheric even when it loses its way. Clever use of repetitive synth pads hook keep your attention like techno, anchoring down some of the mutant samba sounds and noises like SBTRKT experiencing swamp fever. Despite all the unusualness, none of the tracks here are duds - even those which attempt to toy with dance music by laying glitch effects around clarinets. If Tom Skinner can express his own imagination this creatively it’ll be interesting to see what might happen if he’s allowed to drum for a commercial pop band.
7George Bass's Score