Acknowledgement and Review
*chronological from oldest to newest*
Tricephalic Head (Siltbreeze 2014 lp)
“On his debut LP, Tricephalic Head , Jesse Dewlow creates music that sits in a very weird style trench. Parts of it are of a piece with current post-industrial mutts of vaguery like Matt Krefting, Scott Foust and Graham Lambkin, but there’s also an urge towards songliness and graspable organization in line with Richard Youngs’ party moves. Mix those together with a murky sub-underground feel resembling South Island NZ pop played inside of an armored car, and you can begin to get a handle on how truly eclectic (an overused term, but fucking apropros here) is People Skills’ shitstream.”
-Thurston Moore and Byron Coley (Bull Tongue Review issue 2)
“Gotta love Siltbreeze, as no matter how many game-changing underground artists they’ve (alright, he’s) dug up over the years, the label remains committed to putting completely unknown musical nonsense down on vinyl. Take People Skills for instance, a solo artist out of Philadelphia who I would’ve had no idea about were it not for this stately debut album. Tricephalic Head is pretty bleak, like what it must feel like to sleep on that awful mattress on the cover of the Kitchen’s Floor LP. I’m hearing some sort of super-depressed combo of Pink Reason’s Cleansing The Mirror, Lee Noble’s Ruiner and Russian Tsarlag’s Gagged In Boonsville, but with the guitars replaced by whatever rhythm generators and measly keyboards were to be found in the earliest practice spaces of Cabaret Voltaire and Young Marble Giants. All this with a constant warble effect laid on the vocals, to ensure that it sounds like the man behind People Skills is slowly drowning in an inch of water. This isn’t a record you can throw on at anytime and feel good about it – all your roommates or co-habitating family members must already be asleep or not yet woken up, and you’ve gotta be sitting there, staring into your lukewarm cup of coffee in search of answers. There are lyrics included in the cool DJ-style inner sleeve, but quite frankly I’m scared to read them.”
– Matt Korvette of Yellow, Green, Red / Pissed Jeans
-Tricephalic Head Press Release –
Following a self-titled cassette (Psychic Mule, 2013), People Skills serve up a first LP of deceptively relaxed songs. As per usual, deductions are to be made on the consciousness of the character; the important thing is that in the ensuing spatial vagueness, Jesse Dewlow really comes into his own. The influence of Graham Lambkin has become so staggeringly panoramic over the past decade it seems to demand participation and here it is, inscribed by the chance blurts of Die Spielverderber and the slow attitude of The University Punx, and played from the loner-folk-side-in that is, for feeling felt. And the laziness is projective; always managing to sound looser and more vivid than it seemed a couple of seconds before, shifting from lyrical to terse by way of The Rebel. And if that doesn’t get you, consider the mortal words of John Berryman: “Well hell / I’m not writing an autobiography-in-verse.” As a first-person hallucination recorded memory, this plays somewhere between full-blown Dewlow narrative and snapshot. Regardless, we’re blazing into a new era and this one will go perfect in one of those new rabbit-computer cafés.
Pogradec Embankment ep (2015, Self released)
“On his self-titled Siltbreeze album from 2014 under the moniker People Skills, Jesse Dewlow created as much cognitive dissonance between his stage name and his music as possible. Like a dispatch from the Little Prince if he were living on a planet of garbage, People Skills warned people away with murky loner jams studded with shards of glass. Dewlow’s new four-song EP, Pogradec Embankment, feels simultaneously like an embrace and a shove—a live recording made, according to Dewlow, as a method of “decompression” after the painstaking multitracked recording of his upcoming Blackest Ever Black album, Gunshots at Crestridge, which comes out in spring of 2016. That said, there’s nothing painstaking about the EP’s lead track, “Pogradec Embankment 1”. Ingrown, garbled, and blistered raw, it’s a caustic wash of static that cascades into a queasy melody—and even the ghost of a hook—halfway through, as if Dewlow were drowning his inner songwriter in a barrel of industrial solvent. Apparently, Pogradec is a town in Albania whose name translates to “under the city”; with that in mind, someone might want to check the sewers of Philly to make sure Dewlow’s being properly fed as he plays away on his laptop, cranking out chunk after chunk of crushingly lovely, corrosively lush C.H.U.D.-pop.”
Former January Ending Through 52 Weeks (2016, Saga House C60)
“Former January Ending Through 52 Weeks, the title of the newest offering from Jesse Dewlow’s People Skills project, carries the timekeeping association of a journal. The title, it turns out, is perhaps the most determinate aspect of Dewlow’s recent tape, whose inscrutable vocals and ambling tempos are as raw and unsettled as the emotional content that most diaries tend to have. Like Ma Turner’s ZOZ or Secret Boyfriend’s This Is Always Where You’ve Lived, 52 Weeks frames itself as a record of musical sketches. It floats in a private world where environmental textures that sound like home appliances, rattling vents or voices muffled voices the next room waft in and out of the mix. The three-chord progression of “Blight” could form the base of pop song if Dewlow were in any hurry, instead he slows them to a gentle trickle, with his words and syllables barely poking through the oscillations of tremolo. His sense of focus is evident, but it’s not directed at making an intelligible statement, it’s on capturing the sound of emotional ambiguity.”
Gunshots at Crestridge (2016 lp, Blackest Ever Black)
-Gunshots at Crestridge press release-
“Graciously welcoming the second full-length lp from Philadelphia’s Jesse Dewlow, recording under the moniker People Skills. The follow-up to 2014’s Siltbreeze set Tricephalic Head. Ten sunken songs, derisively adorned with rhythm and rudimentary dub effects. Bedroom elegies for the lost and irretrievable, last-ditch spells for transformation and renewal. Thurston Moore and Byron Coley likened the previous record to “South Island NZ pop played inside of an armored car”, and that description holds here: underneath the hoods of these wracked and weather-beaten recordings are melodies of disarming beauty and optimism, bordering on the (wilfully) mawkish, bubblegum ground underfoot. Each piece as time-stopping and evocative as an old photograph of someone who used to mean something. Whether speaking through stately keyboard pastorals (‘Mint Julep’), rat-arsed rock ‘n roll slur (‘89¢ Public Render’) or sulphurous aggro-electronics (the two-part title track), Gunshots At Crestridge exposes, then seeks to redeem, all our tiny acts of self-sabotage, all our sins against time. When to stay, when to go…you never got it right, not once.”
“It’s hard to pin down Jesse Dewlow’s sound under the name People Skills. He squirms from rock shadows to acoustic dirge over the course of his new album for Blackest Ever Black, all rendered half intelligible under a broken VHS veneer of faded sound glory that seems recorded in an oil barrel under the sea. He’s at his best, though, on the chaotic clatter of “89¢ Public Render,” a junkyard hymn of electronic thrum and buzzing guitar beamed through a b-movie asteroid belt that picks up some odd bits of chatter. He’s been honing a sound that’s desolate and dark for years and its coming to a head on the intriguing Gunshots at Crestridge.”
2019 trifecta releases (IDDB 7″, Alien Passengers C47, All Gone C47)
(Magnet Hill, IDDB 7″)
“Is it a sad or happy thing that in order for me to enjoy the sounds of Philadelphia’s own People Skills on 7″ vinyl, I have to wait for a label from Sweden to release it? I’m not gonna linger on possibly depressing thoughts for too long, mostly because the music of Magnet Hill is enjoyably depressing enough as is! This single comes with two slow instrumental guitar/”drums” tracks and two infinite loops. “Three Smiling Dogs In A Dream” feels like a dreary sketchbook riff from Kurt Cobain’s diary; “Summer 1978” opens with some incidental street sounds before settling into a single repetitive guitar note punctuated by a high note on the keyboard, at least until Jesse Sinclair Dewlow (that’s People Skills himself) finds a lonely chord to press on before another cozy locked-groove takes the reigns. This is apparently one of three new People Skills releases, the other two being tapes, and I need to figure out which one comprises the live set I witnessed a few months ago, as that was an extraordinary puff of weary ambient choogle I wouldn’t mind hearing again. “
– Matt Korvette of Yellow, Green, Red / Pissed Jeans
(Mount Moriah Tocsin, Alien Passengers C47)
“I think Jesse Dewlow is sick. Not “sick” as an exclamation (“sick set, bro!”), but sick as in physically ill. Dewlow makes music that sounds unhealthy. Listening to the oozing amorphous song-like sound blobs on these two tapes, I’m transported back to my childhood in the late 1970s, when I had to stay home from school with a fever, drifting in and out of unrestful sleep while my mother had daytime television running a few rooms away. I could hear teevee conversations (game shows? daytime soap operas?) or maybe my mom on the phone with friends, but filtered through a painful headache, persistent nausea, boredom and in between consciousness. That’s what this recalls for me. Dewlow, the man behind People Skills (an ironic name for music this defiantly unfriendly), deserves commendation for coming up with a sound so potentially alienating… clearly, he has a vision and a specific, unique voice.
The more abstract of these two tapes, “Mount Moriah Tocsin”, reminds me of a bit of Sandoz Lab Technicians or CJA. It begins with “Diamond Ring”, a relatively song like blob with a tin-can drum box tapping away and loops so raw they sound like they were recorded onto masking tape. Dewlow’s vocals are delivered in a mush-mouthed monotone from beneath a crushing fog of room tone rumble and negative-fidelity hiss. Behind the obtuse nods toward song, form is a stream of errant chatter from an unrelated conversation. Maybe this is the single? From that opening number, a sense of deflated sadness sets in. A melancholy organ takes the lead as someone works on a carpentry project (maybe drilling wood and building a table?) in the same room that Dewlow happens to be recording in. That shuffle of mundane extraneous incidental motion persists throughout the album, acting as a sort of anchor as the seasick loops degrade and warp… I hear ocean waves (on “Harboring Criminals”, which opens side 2), the wind blowing on a microphone, the clicks of someone shifting in their chair. The atmosphere is one of a private performance that the listener is surreptitiously eavesdropping on. And then the album ends with a major catharsis: a full-sounding church organ and chanting punctuated by synth crackle. Suddenly, People Skills swings open the windows and doors and lets in cleansing daylight.
-Howard Stelzer, Vital Weekly
“It’s no surprise that a tape recorded in a cemetery should have a doom-struck, dreadful vibe. And that’s not so profound a departure from the governing aesthetic of People Skills, the solo electronic project of Philadelphia’s Jesse Dewlow. The project’s most widely available records — Tricephalic Head (2014) released on Siltbreeze, and Gunshots at Crestridge (2016) on Blackest Ever Black — are grimly gorgeous affairs, on which Dewlow’s canny ear for emotive melody is augmented and punctuated by waves of distortion, manipulated field recordings and unidentifiable, digitally treated weirdness. Mount Moriah Tocsin carries the experimental spirit of those recordings into even stranger, crepuscular territory, and the resulting music (or perhaps more appropriately, sound) is as compelling as it is mournful, by turns discomfiting and magisterial. The tape isn’t entirely dour or mired in misery. Dewlow’s gift for engineering beautiful music out of his gear breaks through the sound’s surface at a number of points. “Harboring Criminals,” which opens the tape’s second side, combines gentle washes of sound, twisting in vertiginous minor chords. But rumbles (much like thunder) and other burbling and hollow-sounding rhythms rise and then dominate the song’s second half, as the gentler sounds flatten into ominous drone. “Harboring Criminals” segues directly into “Walking on the Highway,” in which a mid-century, big-band swing track is suspended under a thin layer of water. A saxophone (maybe?) is isolated and amplified, then distended into the sound of a big mosquito humming at your ear. The tape’s loveliest sound, the piano and violin track that runs through “Dreamt You Were a Car,” is shot through with what sounds like a grumbling stomach. No mood or mode is given much by way of breathing space. A couple of the tape’s longer tracks — “Paramnesia” and “Fish Illustration” — have the patterned characteristics of more conventionally articulated compositions. But when listened to, they seem to break down into component pieces. The sound decays. Even at the project’s most fully musical, People Skills has the quality of collage. The sensibility and process of collage is especially palpable on Mount Moriah Tocsin. There seems to be an implicit engagement with the surreal, which has always attempted to bring submerged, subterranean and repressed materials into the open, to create a “sur-reality” that refuses to distinguish between the conscious and the unconscious. That also makes a sort of sense, given the fact that Dewlow conceived and recorded most of the tape in an all-but abandoned graveyard, somewhere deep in the wilds of Southwest Philadelphia. He was unearthing something. What emerges is sometimes beautiful, more often difficult, and always deeply affecting.”
(Telephone Booth, All Gone C47)
“Dewlow’s more conventionally musical side gets the spotlight on his “Telephone Booth” cassette. The overall mood still seems to be informed by codeine and heat stroke, but for the most part “Telephone Booth” is an album of songs played on guitars and keyboards with that damned drum machine still making sickly clicks as Dewlow distractedly moans verses and choruses. If you squint, you can imagine this to be the demo cassette for a future Kranky album, distortion and mistakes left in with the intent to smooth them all out later. However, I know that the blemishes are part of the package, preserved on tape as the artist’s intentional signature. Still, if you like Stars of the Lid or Labradford and can mentally conjure what they might sound like if they made their albums on a dusty Tascam pulled from beneath a bed on a slow Sunday afternoon while all players have nasty head colds, you’d get pretty close to “Telephone Booth”.
-Howard Stelzer, Vital Weekly
-Telephone Booth, All Gone Press Release–
Down a straight & narrow path perfect in it’s symmetry the sound is the vessel clanking around historic roads meant for horses not the assembly lines hellish rubber treads, purposeful yonder’s through city Debris still leaving room for pleasant accidental sceneries.
Jesse has been riding a wave at his own speed for years now with his project People Skills very excited to get back into the groove together after label hiatus. On this release the soundscapes come across like Jandek & Brian Eno decided to collaborate after a case of Natty Boh & couple hoagie sandwiches on a hot day, once these deconstructed Pop Nuggets were done they then handed the master tapes over to Cherry Red records for post production to add that misanthropic industrial dreaminess heard on recordings such as Two Daughters or Thomas Leer.
This tape will leave you glued in your seat, drifting in thought only to snap out in a sparse drum roll over & under Tremolo laced sustain.
Not recommended for driving dangerously narcoleptic.
Former January Ending Through 52 Weeks (2020 lp reissue, Sophomore Lounge)
– Sophomore Lounge press release–
“Sophomore Lounge gifts us a vinyl reissue of People Skills, Former January Ending Through 52 Weeks, which was quietly released by Saga House in 2016. Inzane Johnny called it “the best tape of 2016, hunting them down is akin to finding an application to an avant ballet on the rings of Saturn”.
People Skills is the recording project of Jesse Dewlow and he’s been recording under the moniker in Philly for almost 13 years now. There’s been a few cassettes and lp’s on Siltbreeze and Blackest Ever Black. People Skills is a great name and frankly when you hear the music you immediately assume whomever made it has none. There is just something so Philly about Jesse’s music. Read about this music you’ll find a lot of people making bold comparisons to mad degrees across the globe, but I’ll save you the finger work. I run it up me dome lit in a lineage so very local: the early woobled Wollensack-era US Girls, those absolutely blunted early Social Junk cassettes, melted Kurt Vile demos in Wharton Esherick’s basement style and you’re getting close. Remember for me, Philly is an exotic local. The eastern seaboard should be so lucky to have that as backyard.
The inner logic here in People Skills, beyond a cloud of ambiguity, is a remarkable balance between the shattered plaster electronics and Jesse’s melodious chording. The blunted ass casio beats and the haunted lonerman vox riding tremble alongside make it perfect. The encased-in dust-for-a-few-winters production value is just gravy. We got a glut of lonerism on tape we do… but none of it is really so expertly and woozily executed as it is here on People Skills, Former January Ending Through 52 Weeks. So thanks to Jesse for the sore-audio vision and thanks to Ryan at Sophomore Lounge for putting it out, with care, on wax.”
–Alex Moskos, Montreal Feb 2020.
“Been listening to this LOADS. Big-black edition of Jesse Dewlow’s recent (2016) but rapidly scarce masterclass de hombre solo, now jumped up with artwork comprised with some fittingly rural, transportive rustic photography from his father’s archive. Ugh, visions of the country!!
[One tree per person in London, a rather high ratio, apparently. Very thankful for the one oh-so-faithful and air purifying companion but it doesn’t sound like much, or does it??]
Anyway, this sequence of tranquilised themes, gnawed and abstracted by the solitude they were hatched in, stir palpable stillness and blurry romanzzz in yer mind-trap. Softly spluttering machines and downer-than-down vocals, seemingly recorded from the interior of a coffin that’s been refurbished as a delay / reverb unit, are steeped in the pensive dither of a private universe… to listen is almost to pry, but if ye can get over feeling like a real creep for doing so, you will be consumed by the crumbling bedsit-Miss-Havisham narrative of longing…
Nocturnal rumblings that subtly work their way into the fabric of bittersweet cradle-songs, delays that rest and hover like a fog – calmly split by a metronomic waltz and occasionally ruptured by frustrated, overloaded shrills, “52 Weeks…” izza deftly, DEADLY refined, x-ray ramshackle that’s palette and dialectics recall the likes of Joshua Burkett, The Shadow Ring, Dog Lady Island, Vincent Over The Sink or the very finest of the Vrystaete bizz.
Encouraging to find someone coping with being alone and indoors even less well than we are.”
“rec of the day: PEOPLE SKILLS “former january…” (sophomore lounge LP). out next week, vinylization of 2016 cassette by this great Philly-based artist. a perfect balance between the throttled hum of the machine and the cracked purr of the human psyche. “
“The world seems to be catching up to the music of People Skills, as this is the sound of guitar pop under a global quarantine: hopeless and defeated. Former January Ending Through 52 Weeks was first issued as a cassette back in 2016, but Sophomore Lounge wisely granted it a slick vinyl upgrade; whereas a number of People Skills releases have been dropping lately, this is a standout in the pack. This is People Skills mostly in “song” form, but understand that I’m using that term as loosely as the plot of a dream. Slow guitars strum over makeshift rhythmic noises, keyboard murk and undiscernibly affected vocals… Other moments recall the most isolated New Zealand DIY solo projects, although People Skills has his own particular technique, often utilizing what sounds like disconnected rotary lines for rhythm (or rhythmic disruption), or playing piano on what must surely be the furthest little island somewhere off Nova Scotia, after midnight, without cell service.”
– Matt Korvette, Yellow Green Red
” People Skills is the sporadically operating solo project of Jesse Dewlow, churning out bitter defeat since 2008. Some years (like the last one) see a relative flurry of activity, while others pass by with nothing. And that’s just fine. The LP in question was originally issued on tape in 2016, the inaugural release on Dewlow’s Saga House imprint, though this is the first I’m hearing it. For those unfamiliar with the PS M.O., material typically falls into one of two camps (with plenty of messy overlap): song-based, and soundscape type compositions. Regardless the approach, they are always morose affairs. ‘Former January…’ is perhaps the project’s closest to conventional song writing yet, which is not usually my preference, but I must say, I’ve been flipping this thing over a ton since obtaining. Perhaps it is the current state of unremitting existential dread we are all now subject to, but this record just seems perfectly suited for the times, a nice bowl of charcoaled porridge on cold, hungover mornings staring at an empty bank account and waiting for the other shoe to drop. The dexterity with which Dewlow moves between the worlds of downtrodden, near-twee miniatures and more expansive, endlessly bleak visions brings to mind home taping obscurities like Crawling with Tarts, Armpit, or the solo work of Roy Montgomery and Peter Jefferies. Standing tall (or maybe more like struggling just to get out of bed) in the proud tradition of Making Losers Happy. “
-T.D. via Free Form Freakout column Mutually Reassured Marginality
“Best of 2020
First time vinyl pressing of what internet savant Inzane Johnny declared ‘the best tape of 2016’. Inzane Johnny is the kind of fella who probably did listen to every tape released in 2016, so if anyone’s an authority, it’s him! People Skills have been around a good minute, circling the Siltbreeze & BEB circuit aswell as the CD-R underground with a fairly prolific output of lo-fi, ambient-noise indebted avant transmissions. Characteristically, Former January… possesses the same kind of obtuse wonkiness and unnerving primal expression as Peter Jefferies, Alastair Galbraith, Maxine Funke, alongside a little New Haven-style spacey splatter and drone, and might just represent the peak moment of PS output to date, hit as it is with a beautifully sepia quality, all tape texture and grainy hiss. This kind of lo-fi expression can often be alienating, but People Skills always stand out because the sound is so warm and inviting, even when dropping some Wolf Eyes/Harry Pussy style blowouts right in the middle of proceedings – no wonder Inzane was so taken with it. Imported from the US, just five copies in total, alongside the previous two records which are now also in stock.”