Whistle Past The Grave

Aaron Skiles

Dr. Sam G Records, 2023


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


In 1962 Decca Records famously told the Beatles that “guitar music is on the way out,” to which history would reply with a stack of Marshall amps. There are few things better at conveying the big emotions in life than an electric guitar turned up loud; you know this, I know this, and Aaron Skiles absolutely knows this.

During the pandemic, the San Francisco Bay Area-based Skiles stepped away from Bourbon Therapy, the indie rock / Americana outfit featuring him and his wife Rebecca Skiles, to deliver a raucous set of guitar-heavy rock tunes collected as last year’s solo release Wreckage From The Fire. A year later he’s back with another tight solo set—eight tracks and just 22 minutes—in very much the same vein, a fiery celebration of volume, melody and bruising riffs called Whistle Past The Grave.

The musical vibe is frequently “dingy garage that The Ramones just escaped from,” all fat chords and thrashy drums, but the twist is that, like its classic rock antecedents (think The Kinks, The Who, The Troggs), Whistle embraces melody and doesn’t hesitate to stack chorused vocals on top of all those glorious guitars. Said guitars are once again provided by the terrific Taylor Hollingsworth (Bon Iver, solo, many sessions) and are themselves layered on top of a musical bed laid down by multi-instrumentalist Skiles (guitar, bass, keys) and his multi-instrumentalist co-producer Ben Bernstein (drums, guitars, keys, bass).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Kickoff cut “Don’t Take It From Me” sets the tone with a big, keening, rather Bob Mould-ish number with biting, punk-tinged vocals, a concise 2:00 blast of melody. It’s an appetizer for the weightiest song here; “Rubber Raft” announces itself with an intro that could have appeared on Who’s Next before delving into a true-story lyric about an African American boy in the 1950s South who could only take part in his Little League team’s championship celebration at the local public pool by floating on a rubber raft so his skin wouldn’t touch the water. The music is anthemic and emphatic, tinged with both fury and majesty. (Does Skiles dig Drive-By Truckers? I’m guessing so.)

“About You” comes in at an even tighter 1:47, featuring an airy classic-rock feel, with its two simple but pretty verses presented as a dialogue between male and female voices (Aaron and guest Rebecca Skiles). “Ain’t Been Luck” follows with a big, ringing rocker—Tom Petty comes to mind early on—carrying the sweetest of messages: “For fifteen years… It ain’t been luck / It’s just pure love.” A storming, swerving Hollingsworth solo adds the cherry on top.

The punk edge returns with “Before Before,” a blazing number with hints of The Clash in its shambolic momentum and snarly attitude. Then “Bad For You” delivers a big-boned, rather elegiac rocker about a rendezvous with an old flame that doesn’t go to plan (“Everything you said is true / I am bad for you”). The title track opens with major fuzz and hammering chords, a loud and defiant love song (“No guarantee tomorrow’s even got a spot for us my dear / Yet I’m in love with you”) lit up by little Texas blues flares of guitar from Hollingsworth.

Closer “Keep Me” sums things up nicely, widescreen guitars and chorused vocals as Skiles imagines a man thinking ahead to his own death: “When all that’s left of me is love / And wonderin’ if I rest above / Please take that love and give it all away.” It’s a perfect closer for an album consisting mostly of extra loud love songs, or at least songs about love, what it means and what it can do for us.

This is also the kind of music—raucous and frequently fuzzed-out—that sounds better and better the louder you turn it up. Whistle Past The Grave finds Aaron Skiles once again wearing his classic-rock influences on his sleeve while delivering a set that manages to tackle serious themes without ever appearing to take itself too seriously. Like all the best parties, it leaves you thinking long afterwards about what was said.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2023 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Dr. Sam G Records, and is used for informational purposes only.