If you scroll through Skating Polly’s YouTube videos, you’ll stumble upon an early clip of them playing the Opolis in Oklahoma. The year is 2010, and they are covering “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. Kelli Mayo, who is still in grade school, sounds absolutely irrepressible singing “All I wanna do is bang bang bang bang and cha-ching! And take your money.” Her stepsister Peyton Bighorse, a young teen, bangs on a drum kit ferociously, giving the song the energy it deserves. When the half-sisters unite to proclaim, “Some I murder, some I let go,” it’s evident that they are a unique force needed by the rock world.
It’s been almost eight years that video was posted, and thankfully, Skating Polly is still going strong. Now joined by Kelli’s brother Kurtis, they’ve just released their fifth LP, The Make It All Show. The album delivers a bevy of explosive new tracks while also bringing fans exactly what they’ve come to expect from this self-proclaimed “ugly pop” group (they’re clearly influenced by riot grrl, but they don’t limit themselves to one sound): earnest lyrics and no shortage of spunk.
The first track on the record is “Classless Act.” In an interview with Louder, Kelli said that she knew she wanted it to be the album opener as soon as she wrote it. She made a wise decision—the song surprises you while satisfying your desire for raw emotion in the best way. The opening “Oohs” and guitars make it sound a bit Britpop; then Kelli starts to sing, her voice crackling with emotion, and the true unclassifiable essence of Skating Polly is unleashed. The way the band plays with dynamics and unconventional song structures shows that it’s more than the project of young people actualizing their passion (although that’s something beautiful in itself)—it’s a work that’s been thought through carefully from a musical standpoint. Skating Polly’s sibling power shines especially bright on the bridge, when Kurtis’s percussion joins with Peyton’s lead and Kelli’s backing vocals. Oh, yeah, there’s also the fact that the song is about Donald Trump, a fact that sheds light upon the band’s sense of activism.
“Little Girl Blue and The Battle Envy,” which Kelli has called “the most dismal song I’ve ever written,” sounds like something The Cranberries might write. The softly sung verses show that the band is never reckless with its capacity for loudness; the lyrics tell an emotional story of an unhappy soldier, demonstrating Kelli’s songwriting skills. Another standout is “Queen for a Day,” which features Exene Cervenka of first-wave punk band X. Cervenka has been a faithful mentor for Skating Polly over the years; she produced their second album, and once told the Los Angeles Times that if she ran the Oscars, she would have Skating Polly perform. It’s great to see her rejoining them here—a legend playing with legends in the making.
“They’re Cheap (I’m Free)” is the album’s most menacing, magical track. Immediately, a bassline and simple percussion create suspense. Then Kelli and Peyton sing “You know what I know, son,” their tone suggesting that something big is coming—and sure enough, it does. The chorus is a spiral of vicious vocals and soaring guitars that would make the track sound fantastic in concert. Throughout the rest of the record, Skating Polly maintains this no-holds-barred attitude. “Camelot” features skillful screaming and places “Lancelot” in the same sentence as “cigarette butt.” “This Vacation” has a rollicking beat and end-of-the-world sound that evokes Green Day’s “Holiday”; the song’s aggressive conclusion makes you wish that Skating Polly had their own American Idiot-style musical.
Skating Polly has been set for greatness since the beginning. The Make It All Show is just additional proof of that. If anyone tells you that rock is dead, please point them in Skating Polly’s direction.