Over the last half-decade, we’ve seen a handful of bands emerge that embraced cruddy recording fidelity as an aesthetic choice rather than a limitation. Red-lining distortion and sludgy tape hiss didn’t have to get in the way of the songs; rather, for those who’d absorbed the lessons of the Swell Maps, Flying Nun or early Pavement sides, imperfections could become like instruments — almost as integral as the chords or lyrics. In recent years, though, bands like Times New Viking and Psychedelic Horseshit have inched out of the murk. Eat Skull, another member of that lo-fi noise-rock class, have taken almost four years to follow 2009 sophomore set Wild and Inside, and the Portland-born band has used the time to make the biggest step sideways.
III is still garage pop, and no one will mistake Eat Skull for Phoenix anytime soon, but the album’s synth-wielding, psychedelic turn succeeds at moving beyond shoddy recording quality as end in itself. Taking on space-rock anthems and ramshackle dance-punk with equal aplomb, Eat Skull are still perverse enough to punctuate the grotesque “taxidermy eyes” imagery of “Dead Horses” with a swooning “Crimson and Clover”-style breakdown. A pair of campfire-psych tracks mid-album also pays unexpected dividends. It all coheres in the fuzzy drone of the closing track, which offers a choice — between burning bridges and buying “brand new ones” — that’s really no choice at all. Eat Skull came to a fork in the road, and they took it.