It's easier to describe Skullbuckle's attitude than its sound: reckless irreverence and unrepentant goofiness, fueled by a brash, why-the-hell-not cocksureness. That playful, carefree indulgence unites the 17 songs of the Raleigh unit's self-titled debut, though little else does. With enough costume changes to satisfy Lady Gaga, Skullbuckle winds through indie, math, alt-, country, classic, psych and punk rock, just to sample a few of their looks. Such variety makes the album something of a labored listen. But those with similarly eclectic tastes and short attention spans should look past the unfocused kitchen-sink approach to appreciate the pretense-free charm and abandon (a major component of that aforementioned charm) they bring.
While all of the forms gathered here are competently rendered, several stand out: "Baby" flirts with '90s alt-rock by mining a space between Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr.; "Mexican Girl" balances droney throb with mariachi horns; and redneck ode "Way Back When" keenly walks the line between earnest longing and parody with its Skynyrd-tattooed protagonist.
But two lovelorn paeans, "Precious Corners" and "Cream of the Crop," not only illustrate the band's stylistic sprawl but also produce the record's best moments. "Precious Corners" slinks through mid-tempo pop-rock that lingers like smoke. Peals of pedal steel showcase a slightly more sophisticated side. "Cream of the Crop" is a chunky, garage-punk rave-up that slows down for a strangely lyrical country-punk break. It returns with a punky machine-gun pace, recalling Leadfoot and the Supersuckers.
Trouble is, there's enough throwaway material—the regrettable cowbell-banging cock rock opener, "5 Alive," the churning indie rocker "At Sea," the overly long hardcore malingerer "6:26"—to unnecessarily saddle the album. Skullbuckle might have shed some weight and fashioned something tighter musically, but then that wouldn't really be their nature, would it?