A Small, Good Thing

Everyday people: Rob Skoro
Nathan Grumdahl

True beauty might be in the details, but only because the details reflect bigger things. Sometimes we have to search our experiences for subtle clues that can shift our perspectives. (Let that statement be less of an Oprah affirmation and more of a suggestion to keep your eyes open.) For example, there's potentially more to your morning coffee and conversation than the bubble of caffeine. Perhaps while you're chatting with your neighbor over a cup of Folgers, you'll discover that she is a Maria Callas enthusiast and hoards Charles Bukowski novels. Before long, you'll both be belting out arias in your apartment with a substance more potent than java running through your system.

The vignettes of our daily existence, when unfurled, become proof of life. Proof (Merciful) is a good example of that process. The solo debut from local pop musician Robert Skoro presents 10 sonic snapshots that say enough to fill an encyclopedia. Already a seasoned traveler at age 22, Skoro uses the smallest aspects of his expanding worldview as a blueprint for his music. His starry-eyed pop is a hybrid of a Proust novel and a travelogue fed into a laptop computer. The album title, he'll admit, was an afterthought. Yet considering how much the release serves as evidence of Skoro's own thoughts and experiences, it's easy to appreciate how fitting that title is.

On a chilly Thursday morning at Skoro's favorite Minneapolis corner spot, Café Barbette, the musician looks impossibly wide-eyed for one who has just recently risen. Across the brightly tiled table top, he shows the touches of an expressionist painter: With swirls of bed-head, facial scruff, and spectacles, he's all buttoned-down beneath casual jeans and a crisp plaid shirt. Hovering over a large coffee, he talks about his new album, which is filled with poetic moments. In one song, Skoro waxes philosophical about an old girlfriend's address that's pinned to the wall, a reminder of a life that is now just words on paper. Skoro cites the freeze-frame storytelling of fellow singer-songwriter Will Oldham as his inspiration. "I create narrative [that's] loosely based on reality--more like an account of what's really happening," he explains.

Does that mean Skoro's personal outlook on life might be better described as Thirty-two Short Films About a Cup of Coffee? Well, not exactly. For Skoro, putting Proof into perspective meant taking the nearly three years he spent touring the country as Mason Jennings's bassist and converting them into songs. "You put yourself into that situation enough and weird things start to pop up," he admits. Since he has spent so much time in the confines of a vehicle, it's no surprise that his songs bounce from a distant city window to his shut-eyed thoughts about the girl across town. "I keep a journal to establish that this is the way I feel about something, [that] this is what happened," he says.

Proof provides a rough guide of such ruminations. "John Muir" suggests that the Sierra Club founder, whose writings encouraged Skoro to follow his own ambitions, might have cultivated the musician's earth-friendliness: Before a flush of sequencers and soft guitar, Skoro sings, "I wrote this song on the back of a paper bag." The gentle, keyboard-backed "2318" finds Skoro waking to the sound of his girlfriend singing in the shower. And "Heaven" traces the musician from his own Minnesota home to a New York tenement, where he overlooks Fifth Avenue and discusses hip-hop radio that's being transmitted from Queens.

In these scenes, Skoro finds a heightened awareness amid the minutiae. Or sometimes he just finds good beats. In any case, Skoro's album shows that he believes it's the individual frequencies in life that make up our personal soundtracks. The philosophy works well; his new album is proof.

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