It is no secret that Skimmed are one of my favourite Maltese outfits. When they first appeared on the scene, their sound was extremely promising, if raw. Six years down the line, with every live performance, the band – in particular vocalist Alexandra Aquilina’s voice and presence – has grown from strength to strength, presenting an altogether tighter, more forceful product.
The launch of their first full-length album, Summer Lovers, is 2013’s first big launch on the local indie scene and, if the rest of year continues along these lines, it’s going to be a good year indeed. The CD kicks off with Ronnie, the teaser single that was pre-released online some weeks ago, together with accompanying video. Ronnie presents a rather different feel to the Skimmed that we have been used to so far – with more mainstream appeal than the band’s usual tracks, this is a vibe that continues for the first five tracks.
Ronnie is an eminently likeable, hummable, upbeat love song of sorts that is totally in keeping with the title of this album. The intro is strong; Aquilina’s vocals take on a mellower sound than she is known for, say, in tracks like the old favourite Napoleon; the bass-line is consistently strong… these are all elements that make Ronnie a winner and that hopefully, will guarantee it plenty of radio air-time. The latter is not necessarily high on the band’s agenda, but fact remains that products like this deserve more exposure across a diverse audience.
The CD moves on to an altogether more mature note with Fire in the Disco, a dark, intense track that gives Aquilina ample opportunities to play around with her vocal range. From the lyrics themselves – “the flames they grew to reach up to the skies” is one of my favourite lines – to the brooding riffs to the vocals that rise from a husky quasi-whisper to a determined strength, falling in love with this one is easy.
The eponymous Summer Lovers follows, not quite as innocent as the title suggests with cutting lyrics that carry all the poignancy of a love that turns to disappointment. The trend continues with Tiger Tiger. It’s almost as though with every track, Summer Lovers gets better and better; the vocals become more unrestrained, the arrangements tighter, the lyrics more cynical (or realistic?) and the music more punctuated.
Sunday Drive follows, with its constant “True love, I wonder what it is to you” refrain that deliciously contradicts the upbeat crescendo of the music. This one really makes you want to tap your feet, no matter how cheesy that sounds.
The next track, The Stripper, shows Aquilina in full mettle. This is the dance-floor filler, the track that’s guaranteed to get everyone moshing like there’s no tomorrow, the one that will bring any performance to a roaring climax. Fingernails gives us a break from the aggro, while Ghost in the Mirror delivers the kind of angry, aggressive sensuality that is now synonymous with the band. The same applies to Freak Show, with its frenetic beat and an urgent refrain.
While the whole album is an extremely strong product, Skimmed really reach their full potential from the eighth track onwards, with the possible exception of God Will Take a Note, which is easily my least favourite entry. Devil’s Alibi packs vocals and bass with a punch, but it is Isobel that wins my heart. I’ve been waiting for this track to be recorded since I heard the band perform it live, so forceful was their rendition. Alternately haunting and rousing, this is one that gets under your skin.
Summer Lovers comes full circle with the last track, Dream Girl, a light-hearted, mellow (by Skimmed standards, that is) piece that brings the listener gently back to earth after the fire and brimstone of the previous tracks.
To conclude, definitely one to add to your collection for all seasons and not just for the summer.
Summer Lovers will be launched on Saturday at the British Legion Theatre, Valletta. The album was supported by the Malta Arts Fund and the Good Causes Fund.
AN EDITED VERSION OF THIS REVIEW WAS PUBLISHED ON THE SUNDAY TIMES OF MALTA.