Skittish’s Jeff Noller based his new EP, The Five Stages, on the stages of grief we all experience at some point. In the span of his writing, Noller was in the midst of several break-ups; one was of the personal nature, a love triangle, whereas the other involved his band members dispersing and leaving him alone. An initially interested label being scared off and a suicide attempt brought Noller into even more turbulent times. But he prevails with The Five Stages, which was likely self-therapeutic for the artist, as well as being a treat for all listeners. You could say this is actually a positive result of his grief, which he was able to channel into an enjoyable EP.
I’m fond of grief’s middle stage, bargaining — at least how it’s musically represented here. “The Fixer” is a piano-led pop ballad with melodic brass additions and vintage harmonies. It compares a sinking ship to an eroding relationship, with one side aware that a leaky ship cannot ride on temporary fixes, like patches and plugs, for long-term success. The marimba-like bounce of the next phase, depression, is oddly jubilant; after resigning to the relationship’s departing, “Kerosene” shows a sort of breezy nonchalance, before one last concluding fit of distortion-friendly rage. Noller shows his high, ghostly croon best during this track’s first half, and the placid acoustic closer “The World Needs Bartenders (Acceptance)”. Some would say it sounds like a caressing mixture of Thom Yorke and Conor Oberst.
Other efforts on the EP are accurately indicative of the five stages, as well. “Built to Break” is led by stomping waves of distortion, with the sort of grandiose rage you’d expect from grief’s second stage, anger. It’s a nice place to tout crunchy alt-rock, which Noller executes well. Concept aside though, The Five Stages is a nicely receptive pop EP with an adventurous spirit. Listeners have many reasons to celebrate Noller prevailing over past demons and obstacles. Both intimate and infectious, The Five Stages is highly recommended.