Obtanium by Skeleton Key: Return of Promising Weirdo Rock
Vincent Francone
8/30/2002 12:02:01 PM

It's a story you've heard before. A band struggles to be heard, is noticed by some of its peers, gets a little critical recognition, and then fades away due to internal troubles, an indifferent public, or just the will of the unknowable forces that govern all things. This is sort of what happened to Skeleton Key.

In their earlier manifestation, they impressed a significant part of the music community and then promptly disappeared. A few years later, the remnants of the band appeared on the guest star laden Melvins record, The Crybaby. Not without coincidence, they now appear on the same label, Ipecac. Their unofficial comeback record, Obtanium boasts enough odd augmented percussion and unique guitar work to find a cozy place in the Ipecac family, but unlike its noisier cousins, Skeleton Key seems more focused on being a straight-ahead rock band.

If anything, the real strength of Obtanium is the arrangements of the instruments. The guitar and drum work are often impressive, and always just a bit off, making a sound that one will not find elsewhere. A less subtle band might drive this over the top (think Primus), but these guys know how to keep reign over their concept. The music is always intriguing, shifting from slop-slide melodies and junkyard percussion to fifth chord power rock, making a satisfying stew, but often the lyrics threaten to ruin the whole thing. With music this fun and engaging it is easy to forgive the occasional groaner lyric, such as "someone make a toast to the claustrophobic host,"-- a lyric that might be funny were it not delivered with such seriousness. But weak lyrics aside, this is still a lot better than most of what sadly passes for music.

Obtanium is a collection of songs, some good some lacking, but I suspect that it might age well. Upon my third listening I found that a song I originally found to be poor, ("Roost in Peace") was actually quite fun. It is worth the price for the first and last tracks alone. "Sawdust" is the prototypical Skeleton Key song; robot guitar, found object percussion, electronic flavoring, and a catchy melody that even boasts a genuinely fine lyric, simply, "my head is filled with sawdust." The closing song, "Say Goodnight" is an eerie, beautiful composition worthy of immediate attention-- a sad little song the likes of which only comes around every blue moon. This track alone redeems the entire record as well as the entire concept of musical expression, an art form that has taken a beating all too often.

Obtanium may not change your life, but it will make for a fun distraction. You could do a lot worse. Some predict that this is the band to watch as the coming year might see them honing their craft and becoming all that they could be. That considered, Obtanium is as good a start as any.


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