Skating Polly are a band that, personally speaking, tend to ride the rails of an almost genre-bending style with their alternative-rich, noisy, energetic rock music that has captured me as a fan since I discovered them years ago. Even from the days as far back as The Big Fit, they’ve always had an edge to their style that stuck out to my ears. That said, even if Chaos County Line weren’t the most versatile record of 2023, I’d have to say it’s a pretty awesome display of compositional quality. Furthermore, diving right into a first listen, I’m going to go ahead and write this review in real-time, as I pen this all down as I experience it!
The album begins on a somewhat folky, maybe even Western-ish tinge. Guitar and vocals lead us into a set-up of pure chaos (strange, almost like that’s part of the title of the record), describing a less-than-ideal life of essentially being caught in a maelstrom of toxicity and what reads, lyrically, as perhaps Dr. Phil’s worst nightmare or Jerry Springer’s wet dream. “Baby On My Birthday” sets the tone, certainly, for what continues to be that Western-ish tinge to the following tracks, “Masquerade” and “Hickey King”, each one getting fuzzier and grittier as we go along. Jumpy, distorted, catchy, a non-stop rollercoaster of strong emotions and fairly sarcastic digs at maybe a few people the lyrics might be directed towards. Only really slowing down, if briefly, during “Girls Night”, the first 5 to 6 tracks are going to electrify you in the best way possible.
Spanning sounds reminiscent to L7, an earlier wave of Tegan & Sara, and plenty of hints of another personal favorite, Ida Maria; Skating Polly check plenty of boxes that go from pop, to punk, to rock, to alternative, to even some light metal. I even feel the intro riffs of “Singalong” could arguably hit some of the marks of sludge. Once more, the embellished variety of sounds within even half the album alone is not only present, but also doesn’t feel forced or done in any way outside of what seems to be just a natural ability of the band to write interesting indie rock almost effortlessly. The vocal work has such a dynamic, along with layering that just adds all the more power to an already high-voltage circuit.
Although a tracklist spanning 18 songs in total is usually something that, on the surface, makes me feel a little unsure about a record (unless we’re talking grindcore, obviously), Chaos County Line does this well, too. Even by the 13th song, I find myself still curious and still wanting to delve on into the album. At this point, I think I’ve found my favorite track, or at least a favorite lyric line, in “Tiger At The Drugstore”:
‘Faking it just doesn’t feel like how I remember it
Faking it just doesn’t feel familiar at all
And I try not to leave, so you believe when I’m phoning it
Faking it just doesn’t feel like home‘
While I may not have those lyrics 100% correct (keep in mind, I’m just going off what my ears hear at the time of writing this), it has a sarcasm and emotional depth that reminds me of the likes of Paul Banks of Interpol. Given Banks’ writing style is a big part of what keeps me so hooked on their music, seeing this sort of clever weaving of words from Skating Polly only adds to my appreciation of the record all the more. This, paired with the piano-centric, ballad-like nature of songs like “Someone Like A Friend”, “Booster Seat” (which also feels like it has a mild hint of industrial flavor to it), and the acoustic guitar accompanied “Charlie’s Brother” all combines beautifully to make this just as much of a heavy-hitter on a softer note as it does on a heavier, more rock-driven one. Virtually every part of this record has something new to be found and enjoyed in it, track-to-track.
Kickflip your way over to the nearest streaming service, their Bandcamp, or (if you’re really the saucy type) your local record store… and give this album the deep dive it deserves! Skating Polly have earned their stripes, no doubt. Chaos County Line is a high point for the band that you won’t want to miss out on. Typing these last few sentences, I’ve arrived to tracks 17 and 18, just about wrapping up my listen-through as I conclude this review. Final thoughts? It’s good. It’s really good.