Skeleton Key – Obtainium

3 out of 5

Label: Ipecac

Produced by: The Dubious Brothers

I’d waited approximately 2.5 million years since Skeleton Key’s debut for a proper followup.  They’d had a (to me) spiritual sequel via Enon’s first major release, and main Skeleton Key-er Erik Sanko released a solo album which very much sounded like SK’s stripped down moments, but still, I’d dream of the group reconvening to evolve on one of my favorite albums of all time.

It’s a tough expectation to meet, and I understood that.  It really wasn’t that much later that Obtainium came out – five years on – and I reminded myself of that high bar when I was kind of disappointed that the album was on Ipecac (home to what I often heard as bands with a forced element of quirk); that award-winning packaging had been replaced with a cheapie white on black illustration; that producer Dave Sardy was gone and replaced by the dubious sounding ‘Dubious Brothers,’ whom I can’t say I’ve seen elsewhere…

And some of that disappointment, alas, rang true, not only from the get-go, but whenever I’d revisit the album: the production and Ipecac-ness sucked out most of the band’s organic clatter and replaced it with a diluted electronic sound.  Whatever ‘junk percussion’ still existed came across as pitter patter, with some unimpressive bleeps and bloops added atop.  The mess of genres also had the ol’ Ipecac smear: most of the album is slightly funky, with electric guitars.  Erik Sanko’s lyrics, while never the deepest cuts, felt boiled down to either simple anthems – One Way, My Way – and old-man sounding refrains, as in The Barker of the Dupes.  That’s all an incredibly judgmental read, because the flip-side is that every track is pretty instantly accessible, and unique – the latter of which the first album succeeded by being super short – and approached as a fresh act, there are some amazing standout moments that would indicate the balance of old and new achieved on their next eventual followup, Gravity Is The Enemy.  King Know It All and That Tongue, for example, two late album entries, would rank amongst the best SK tracks: these sound like a band in its groove, and not a sort of processed take on what would sound quirky in the early 00s.

My mixed feelings on the disc didn’t prevent me from playing it relentlessly, nor from trying to use it as a gateway drug for others to listen to Fantastic Spikes.  Sanko’s vocal performance across the disc is quite strong, and maybe even preferred over Gravity’s more aggro elements.  I haven’t necessarily come to ‘reassess’ the album – it’s still last on my SK playlist – but I appreciate it as growing pains, and the select excellence on the album makes the rest of its averageness toe-tappable enough for occasional spins.

The LP version of this has a bonus track, ‘Repeating Dunce (Repeating)’ which is a good rocker, sort of in line with stuff like ‘Solitaire’.  It’s a good track, but it feels somewhat misplaced on the album, as the latter half gets a tad less aggressive, making it stick out.  However, it’s possible I’m just so used to the CD sequencing that it stick out to me.