Casper Skulls emerged from the Toronto exurbs in 2015, bursting onto the local scene with a studied sound and supercharged live performances. Over the course of their young career the band's sound has remained difficult to pin down, shifting through a broad collection of influences and jamming a raft of new ideas into each song, giving the impression that their early 7" and EP were "just the tip of the iceberg" (Noisey). The band's debut full length, Mercy Works, only serves to deepen that impression, making good on their early promise with a release that constitutes a startlingly ambitious statement of intent.
The album, which was recorded in early 2017 with co-producer/engineer Josh Korody (Fucked Up, Dilly Dally), and mixed by Alex Newport (At The Drive-In, Death Cab For Cutie), is densely arranged, intricately written and performed with an uncommon earnestness. While the rough and ready post-punk and lo-fi early '90s indie influences present on the band's first recordings still provide the foundation, there is a sense of scale on display in their swelling guitar figures and sweeping string arrangements (provided by Toronto musician Paul Erlichman) that is mirrored by the songwriting of dual lead vocalists Melanie St. Pierre and Neil Bednis. The real-life couple seek to represent lived experience in immense detail - engaging with a diverse palette of references, both musical and lyrical, to explore two intensely personal perspectives of emotional growth.
Thematically, the album traverses various paths of self-exploration, from relationships to politics to death and grief, in a language inflected by an immersion in several generations of experimental guitar music, and an ambivalent grappling with the reverberations of a Catholic upbringing. Whether drawing on the poetry of William Blake ("What's That Good For"), the dystopian sci-fi of Philip K. Dick ("Colour of the Outside"), or ruminating on mortality and evolving personal/cultural legacies through Elvis Presley and Paul Simon's trips to Graceland ("You Can Call Me Allocator"), St. Pierre and Bednis collect pieces of the world around them and imbue them with new meaning as they attempt to understand their place in it.
The driving force behind Mercy Works is the band's irrepressible desire to pursue new ideas and explore the expressive possibilities of the music they make. Reflexively humble, and infectiously enthusiastic, Casper Skulls are a group that see themselves as being at the beginning of their journey, an enticing prospect given the self-assuredness that underpins their debut.