An ominous earworm waits in the middle of Russell Fitzgibbon’s debut album as Skeleten. Set to a circular beat with all the snap of classic hip-hop, ‘No Drones in the Afterlife’ pleads with people to live every day to the fullest rather than fixate on what might lie beyond this existence. Along the way, the Sydney producer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist imagines waking up surrounded by police and spotting one of the titular drones hovering on the horizon.
Inspired in part by the religious zeal of certain right-wing Australian politicians, it’s pointed commentary that’s incredibly catchy too, thanks to the indelible mantra “don’t keep looking for the afterlife, yeah”. It’s also the ideal centrepiece for an immaculately layered album that has a lot on its mind.
Fitzgibbon first unveiled Skeleten in 2020, amidst persistent lockdowns and a strong CV as half of the duo Fishing, whose stuttering electronic instrumentals helped bring dance music to local indie rock crowds in the 2010s. He also plays bass for alt-country act Babitha, making for an added display of versatility. And probably the nicest surprise about ‘Under Utopia’ is just how song- and lyric-driven it is, fleshing out its club summonses with confident vocals and articulate narratives.
In fact, there’s only one instrumental here: two-minute opener ‘Generator’, which acts as a vibey airlock to the meditative content and darkly danceable sound to follow. After that we’re dropped right into ‘Mirrored’, a mellow cut that’s immersive without feeling overworked. Fitzgibbon’s soft singing borders on falsetto, and the gentleness of both rhythms and melodies foreshadows the album’s quieter back half. But first comes a run of upbeat tracks that include the lithe funk of ‘Walking on Your Name’, the pulsing vocal harmonies of ‘Heart Full of Tenderness’ and the nocturnal New Age sheen and house-style hook of ‘Territory Day’.
The pace definitely drops after ‘No Drones in the Afterlife’, but that simply makes the lyrical and melodic choices stand out more. The title track is a spacious ballad about appreciating life, and ‘Colour Room’ and ‘Right Here It’s Only Love’ keep their dancefloor dreaminess intimate rather than hectic. ‘Sharing the Fire’ sounds openly romantic at the outset, but it’s actually about the collective benefits of reconnecting with friends and fellow creators after lockdown.
Even slower and more intriguing is ‘Everything We Need in the World’. This closing track pairs Fitzgibbon’s penchant for breakout refrains with a slinky bassline and a baggy, reverbed beat that evokes the late ’90s. As the proceeding layers point to the widescreen bliss of early rave music, Fitzgibbon completes his album-long fixation on utopias and dystopias with a spoken-word inventory of his various wishes, from fresh air and a new phone to acceptance and peace.
It’s a final reminder that no matter how much Skeleten might get us moving over the course of this record, there’s plenty more going on beneath the surface.
- Release date: July 28
- Record label: Astral People