3 out of 5
Label: Jetset Records
Produced by: Peter Freeman (mixed by)
From the limited set of Skeleton Key releases, Obtainium is my least favorite. It’s definitely got some great moments, and features the SK “sound” of amped-up, twisted waltzes, but it feels pared down to something that’s meant to be a bit more appealing to its Ipecac audience: lyrics are pretty simplistic, using occasionally eye-rolling imagery, and the whole junk percussion aspect sounds slicked up, production-wise. A year prior to that, SK frontman Erik Sanko would release solo album Past Imperfect, Present Tense on Jetset, and it had a similar vibe, though tailored more for a minimalist pop and dirges often found on Jetset.
Past Imperfect is built on frailty: tick-tock, mechanized, thin compositions; Sanko’s yearning, reedy vocals; thoughts on loss and open-ended dreams. Moments of it are beautiful, and moments of it are haunting. When Sanko overreaches for a metaphor – and this is present on any given SK release as well – things kind of break down, such as on the “I love your crooked smile” ode of The Perfect Flaw. Elsewhere, though, he keeps this tendency reigned in, delivering wonderfully stinging odes to broken relationships (whether romantic or otherwise) mapped to simple, understandable imagery: While You Were Out, The Train, Finger String are all gorgeous and heart-breaking. The music is often formed around a simple, few-note guitar ditty, backed by metronomish, clattering tip-toes of beats. The Jetset-ness hits mid-album, though, when Perfect Flaw and other tracks bring in some synths (or something that sounds like synths) that sort of ruins the humble feel of things, and the overall minimalist approach unfortunately leaves some songs sounding rather similar.
In moments, though, this is a thing of affectingly broken beauty.