"I’m too sacred for the sinners/And the saints wish I would leave." - Mark Heard
Friday, September 7, 2012
Review - Skeleton Key - Gravity Is The Enemy
Months later this album still satisfies. It's wonky, weird and melodic as all getout! If you love bass-driven songs then weep a silent tear for your stolen youth and then get this album.
Skeleton Key has had a long and unusually colorful, though not exactly prolific, history. Their first full-length album, Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon, was nominated for a Grammy in 1997. Two more albums over the next five years did well but eventually all the members but bassist/songwriter Erik Sanko either left the band or died of dysentery. Sanko then joined a commune of yeti and only returned to civilization in 2011 when he learned that he could use Kickstarter to raise the funds for Gravity Is The Enemy, the first Skeleton Key album in a decade.
Just in time for the apocalypse, the album sounds like the end of the world. The world may have changed while Sanko was serving as head yeti groomer the sound of Skeleton Key has not. While in most bands this would be seen as a stagnating refusal to grow, in this case the sound of the band is so distinctive that any major change would betray their roots. Described by infantile rock critics as a “junk rock” band, it can be confirmed that the band does indeed have a regular drum kit drummer and an additional fellow who bangs away on a “junk kit” which consists of trash cans, propane tanks, boxes of 8” pie pans, tubs of discarded Atari 2600 E.T. cartridges, or whatever else strikes their fancy. Surprisingly it’s not as messily noisy as one might think but instead lends a nice, loose variety to the rhythm section.
As the bassist is the lead songwriter the songs themselves are heavily anchored in melodic bass lines. The title track is typical of their style, opening with richly textured bass that stays prominent throughout, leading to a playful tumble of a verse punctuated by crashes and distorted guitars that add hard-hitting harmonic accents to the organized chaos. Add to this Sanko’s idiosyncratically crusty vocals and you have a sound that few bands could match. While the entire album is packed with some of the best music I’ve heard in a long time, far and away the best, catchiest song is “The Mowing Devil.” Prominently comprised of a piano playing a plunky low-end riff and a male chorus singing a kind of sea-chanty this song could easily be a lost Tom Waits classic or a new genre in modern classical music.
Skeleton Key is not for everyone as their style lists heavily to the adventurous side. They have toured with Primus, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, They Might Be Giants, Morphine and The Jesus Lizard and oddly, their sound successfully contains bits of each of these. Besides, how many albums besides Gravity Is The Enemy can be said to have been written in the Himalayas with yeti?