The former is a startlingly authoritative, snarling take of Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse’s brand of punk-anchored “ugly pop,” a fully realized vision of doom and gloom showing just how lethal Skating Polly can be.
The latter is a stripped-down, heart-tugging piano ballad on par with anything Regina Spektor has ever done, toying with lush melodies with lovely ease.
For each song’s merits, the two standouts don’t sound like the same artist, let alone the same album, and the rest of Fuzz Steilacoom follows that uneven path.
That commitment to mastering each polar end of the spectrum is a product of their youthful exuberance and ambition, but the constant shifts — slotted against the grain more often than with it — play out like Skating Polly’s iPod set to shuffle.
And those transitions can betray otherwise-good songs. Muzzled jangle “Scummy Summer” registers as a feather tickle to the gut punch of “Alabama Movies,” while the deep chug in “Ugly” makes the raw, poetic, indie-folk strum in the Neutral Milk Hotel-channeling “Break Your High” feel well out of place.
But even if the thesis is jumbled, there are a lot of razor-sharp ideas to enjoy. In the important ways, Fuzz Steilacoom is still a vital (if dizzying) showcase of the pair’s ever-evolving songwriting chops. That growth will spurt if Skating Polly can pare down its multiple personalities, or at least learn to compartmentalize them. — Joshua Boydston