Family bands have a long and rich history in rock music. Whether it’s TV groups like The Partridge Family, sibling songbirds like The Carpenters, battling brothers like Oasis and The Kinks, or the gloriously tuneless living room jams of The Shaggs, the family that shreds together stays together.
Your typical family band is devoted to AM radio sounds or Beatles melodic rock, not punking out and raging together. Phoenix’s Sugar Skull Explosion are the exception.
The horror punk heroes are a father-daughter duo, with J-Skull on bass and organ and E-Skull on drums and glockenspiel. Both sing, but E-Skull’s excited, unrestrained vocals define the band’s sound. She’s in elementary school, but sings with a ferocity of spirit that would make most grown-up hardcore howlers envious.
The band’s roots stretch back to when J-Skull ran the house venue Funny World in Eastlake Park. With living room shows featuring the Slow Poisoner, the Doyenne, Dinosaur Love, and Space-Alien Donald, Funny World was a go-to destination for weird DIY sounds. Founding a band with his kid didn’t come as a surprise. It would be weirder if the two weren’t bashing out raucous garage tunes together.
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Sugar Skull Explosion dropped two releases in 2016: the full-length Zombie Party and the covers EP Kathleen & Courtney. On the latter, a feral-sounding E-Skull takes songs by Bikini Kill and Hole and tears them into shreds. And Zombie Party makes great use of J-Skull’s more sardonic delivery. On songs like “Doll Brain,” he’s channeling The B-52’s with gusto. Few groups sound like they’re having half as much fun as the Sugar Skulls do on every track.
The band will follow up that one-two punch with 2018’s The Wolves of Space Awaken.
Featuring a Bjork cover, more varied instrumentation, and Sugar Skull Explosion’s trademark noisy elan, it’s a record that’s sure to gnaw on your eardrums. Songs like “Child Model” see the band stretching out into near-metal territory with buzzsaw riffing, thudding drums, and E-Skull’s voice yowling “I pose like a princess.” Indeed, she’s the kind who sits on a throne of skulls and plays games of fetch with a Dire Wolf.
Sugar Skull Explosion are scheduled to perform at The Trunk Space on Saturday, March 31. Tickets are