Easy listening

“My head is filled with sawdust.”

Singer/bassist Eric Sanko sings this refrain on the opener of his band Skeleton Key’s second album, Obtainium. It’s the perfect description for my own inability to write a decent lead for this review.

From a gut level, it’s way easy to say, “Obtainium fuckin’ rocks, dude! Get it now!” Describing Skeleton Key’s sound to qualify that utterance is a bit more difficult.

Of course, the phrases “dischordant” and “melodic” have been applied to numerous reviews on Musicwhore.org before — Luminous Orange, mono, Number Girl, downy.

Put Skeleton Key on that same list, and it’s like tacking on Red Hot Chili Peppers to a police line-up that includes My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, the Pixies and Radiohead. Never mind Luminous Orange, et al are from Japan and Skeleton Key is from the States.

Obtanium is an album that doesn’t wear after numerous listens. If anything, the songs on the album would probably make for some decent, standard alt-rock fare if only they weren’t so angular.

A lot has been written about percussionist Rick Lee’s junkyard kit, which, seen live, adds a definite presence to the band’s music. On recording though, Lee could have been replaced by samples for how far down the mix he’s in.

(“Barker of the Dupes” is the glaring exception. There, Lee pretty much takes center stage.)

Doesn’t matter — guitarist Chris Maxwell does more than enough to keep the band’s songs off-center. Those aren’t I’s and IV’s driving the harmonic rhythm of “One Way, My Way” or “Panic Bullets”.

Sanko, however, anchors the band’s music to straight-forward melodies. For all of Lee’s frenzied timbres and Maxwell’s odd chords, it’s still easy to sing along with Sanko.

Obtanium has been criticized for being too conventional, for not expanding or matching the adventuresome nature of the band’s sole major label album, Fantastic Spikes. That’s all lost on me — I didn’t even know about the band till I caught them before labelmate eX-Girl at Emo’s pre-SXSW party back in March 2003.

But there is truth in the criticism. Obtanium does feel like it’s got a hand stretched out to the mainstream. And that’s all right — the mainstream could use a little more obtuse music.

Obtanium is a brainy album that demands attention without alienating the listener. It’s easy to sing along, so long as you don’t try to hum the guitar parts.