One of the things that has always intrigued us about musicians is how they are able to channel the most unlikely of emotions into musical gold. On Skommel, Mike Visser’s debut album under the moniker Imaginary Tricks, he takes feelings of anxiety, familial pride and introversion, and filters them all into gorgeous alt-pop constructions. Skommel is in many ways an album that is not only thought up within Mike’s head, it’s also seems to remain there, a place you’re welcome to visit, but are unlikely to ever fully understand.
While Skommel is a debut album for Imaginary Tricks, for Mike Visser it’s something of a musical return. Mike initially came to the world’s attention as lead singer of Sacramento trio, Frank Jordan. The band opened for the likes of Jimmy Eat World and Grandaddy, and following their break up, in his own words Mike, “needed one more turn, one more journey into the abyss”. That turn would turn out to be Skommel, an album he has suggested is the result of, “traversing fear, self-realization, and what feeling truly alone was all about”. A record about loneliness and isolation might not sound like the most obviously exciting story to tell the world, but nothing about the music of Imaginary Tricks could ever be classified as ordinary.
Recorded in Japam Studio in Brooklyn, Skommel is a diverse set of musical ideas. A record that casts Mike Visser as a musical magpie, flittering between genres, instruments and influences, never settling on one specific sound you could tie down. There’s the Tom Vek like eerie electronica of Lights Out, the reverb soaked, explorations of Snakes, and the rhythmic strut of Big Hassles. Skommel is a record that borrows from an array of genres, borrowing ideas from classic R&B, noise-drenched guitar pop and synth heavy psych-tinged rock.
Night Owl, previously premiered here, is Imaginary Tricks at his most straight up. An upbeat piece of sun-drenched pop, its bright outlook belies its lyrical content, which as he puts it, is about, “the universal feeling of staying up at night, worrying yourself to bits”. While No Ordinary Guy is fabulous recollection of his father’s battles to leave his native South Africa behind for a new life in America. Lyrically it’s fabulous, a touching tribute for all his father did for his family and also a reminder of the power of dreams, as taking on the role of his father he sings, “how long I’ve been waiting for this day to arrive, so long it’s time for us to be alive.”
Best of all is Birds, quite possibly our favourite single of the year so far. It’s absolute bliss, a shuffling guitar line, light easy-going drum beat and Mike’s voice never sounds better, at once passionate and entirely relaxed. The whole thing builds to a fuzzed-out finale, as Mike repeats the line, “despite what you heard, I am still feeling like a little bird flying away, despite what you heard I am still feeling like I’m not out of line for wanting freedom”. The sort of lackadaisical, hazy pop song that sounds so effortless, yet is so hard to perfect – we’ve basically been listening to it on repeat since its release.
It is a record that fully justifies Mike’s decision to return to music. An important record, a gently unfurling masterpiece, and a record to slowly fall in love with as you piece together the multitude of ideas and imagery on show. Skommel is a record that may well slip past the watch of the mainstream, but that will make it no less of a triumph, to many of us Imaginary Tricks might just be our new favourite band.
Skommel is out now via Friendship Fever. Click HERE for more information on Imaginary Tricks.