Agitated Atmosphere: Human Skab – Thunder Hips and Saddle Bags

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Human Skab.

There is something to be said about the honestly inherent in children. Somewhere along the way, our ability to process and filter life begins to corrupt our youthful ability to let the world enter and exit undisturbed. The inventive process therein is a great spectacle. The unaffected child begins to march to their own beat with clever turns of phrase and sound breaking down adult barriers to unveil the world as it truly may be. No war, no politics, and no thick veneer of entertainment news cycles can cover up this brief glimpse into a world that is as beautiful as it is ugly.

During 1986, a sliver of this worldview oozed from Elma. Unshackled from his humanoid name, Travis Roberts, 10 year-old Human Skab created the sort of revelry only children and disconnected adults of mad genius can conjure. Thunder Hips and Saddle Bags provides a rare glimpse into each of our pasts: days spent running recklessly among a giant world; thoughts swallowed by wrestling, cartoons, Saturday afternoon black and white movies, and the popular culture in which we are unwittingly thrust. All you need to know of Human Skab is portrayed by his dirty skin, lack of attire, and rebellious Mohawk as he mugs for the album’s cover photo. A child as tough as the metal he imbibes and as resilient as the pots, pans, pianos, and guitars he and his boisterous neighborhood band beat to tell the stories of the soured logging town he was born and raised. Unlike a certain icon that emerged from the same region of Washington to briefly disrupt the status quo, Human Skab’s only agenda was to enjoy the fun of youth.

Reissued from its humble beginnings as a limitedly distributed cassette by Family Vineyard, the world receives another blissful opportunity to immerse themselves in their youthful transgressions through the work of Roberts and his roughnecks. Thunder Hips and Saddle Bags not only surpasses the expectations one would have as it pertains to a child’s musical creations, it reminds us just how much has changed in 25 years. The world Travis Roberts captures is not only one that is quickly being forgotten thanks to a log jam of text messages and countless cable options, it is the one of our own youth. Many can relate to the day-to-day observations Roberts so eloquently describes without the bat of an eyelash or a though of consequences. The sounds may be rudimentary — the creation of flesh meeting metal — but it’s in that simplicity that we find ourselves once more. Away from the din of life as we’re living it and closer to life as it once was.

Listen to “John Wayne is Dead”:

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This isn’t the creation of a pristine choir or a choreographed happening but the spontaneous ramblings of an unlikely childhood genius who wanted nothing more than to punk out John Wayne, announce the combatants of a make-believe wrestling match, and shed a pinpoint light on his life in Elma — as we wished to do to our own lives in our own small communities. Travis Roberts the adult finds himself in a different world than he did as a child but the re-emergence of his childhood alter ego makes us all remember what ‘is’ life. Thunder Hips and Saddle Bags isn’t that existential but after weeks of listening to it, it becomes the mantra by which you will submit.

Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist who also runs the webzine, Electronic Voice Phenomenon. He writes the Monday News Mash-Up for the KEXP Blog. You may follow him on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 27, 2010 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Hey thanks for the great review! Come see us play either on March 6th at Grunge Night at the Mine in Ballard or Indie Rockers for Haiti on March 12th at the Eagles Hall in Olympia!! Both shows will be killer! Classic NW acts like the Thrown Ups, featuring Mark and Steve from Mudhoney, Guys from U-Men, Gas Huffer, Some Velvet Sidewalk, Calvin Johnson and the Hive Dwellers, Brazilian Star Lulina, other historic Seattle and Oly bands!!!! I’ve been spooning my broken guitar with the kids all morning in prep for these shows!! Rock on KEXP!!!!!!
    Human Skab

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