ALBUM: Skating Polly – ‘The Big Fit’

“Ugly pop – pop music that has been dragged on the back of a horse through dirt and shit and everything disgusting.” That was the assessment given by Babes in Toyland drummer Lori Barbero when asked to describe the boisterous racket made by Oklahoma step-sisters Kelli Mayo and Peyton Bighorse, aka Skating Polly.

It was taken as a compliment by the siblings who have long been obsessed with grunge, riot grrrl and all types of scuzzy, alternative 90s noise and been playing together since 2009. Now at the grand old ages of fifteen (Kelli) and nineteen (Peyton), they’ve been off on tour with L7 and Flaming Lips and their third album The Big Fit is being championed by Kate Nash.

The template is a pretty simple one. Gentle, down-tuned harmonies tell of adolescent angst and heartache, before a stomp on the overdrive pedal unleashes a torrent of guttural scuzz and scowl. Peyton is the quieter of the two, with a fondness for Elliot Smith, Neutral Milk Hotel and Perfume Genius, whilst Kelli is a naturally confident whirlwind of energy who cites Courtney, Kurt, Sleater Kinney, Exene Cervenka and an array of cult punk protagonists as heroes. Their parents clearly had a fine record collection.

Together they’re the outsider kids at the back of the class doodling on their text books with scruffy, multi-coloured hair-dos, tumble down charity shop frocks and scuffed Doc Martins, who spend the holidays making music, playing SXSW and hanging out with a host of punk-rock legends. Yep, even at such a tender age, they’re far cooler than you’ll ever be.

Interchanging between guitars, drums, bass and lead vocals, the pair generate that unchained feeling of first love excitement, crashing and bouncing all over the place, squealing until your eyes pop out of your heads and throwing everything they have into three minute blasts of DIY, scuzzy, alt-rock. Lead single ‘Perfume For Now’ sets the tone; jolting from clunking, broody bass lines and mournful musing into a raging fuzz bomb of fury – “I know you wanted to be class white trash/Or were you going for class clown/Even in my dreams I would not spit it out”.

As you’d expect, it’s a step up in sophistication and production from early albums Lost Wonderfuls (2013) and Fuzz Steilacoom (2014), but none of the scrappy charm is lost. ‘Pretective Boy (sic)’ is a relatively laid-back, daydream of a groove that recalls the Smashing Pumpkins’ more wistful and breezy moments, and piano lullaby ‘Cosmetic Skull’ channels Regina Spektor as Kelli pours out a jumble of journal entries.

The big, snarly exorcisms return on ‘Hey Sweet’ and the loud-quiet dynamic shifts get violent and completely wired on ‘For the View’, before ‘Stop Digging’ winds it all together in a stew of Nirvana sludge and barbed shouts and shrieks.

It chimes with a current surge of noisey, grunge-inspired groups and the return to action of some of the seminal female riot grrl acts of the 90s, but this is far from band wagon jumping. The Skating Polly girls know their history, embrace the attitude and thrash as hard and fierce as any of them. They are worthy god daughters to the original women of grunge.

The Big Fit is out 8 April.

Kevin Irwin

Kevin Irwin

Kevin Irwin

Kevin Irwin

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