The Portland Phoenix
October 17 - 24, 2002

[Music Reviews]

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*** Skeleton Key



After a five-year break from recording, these crafty downtown Manhattan art-rock noisemakers are back with their most interesting assault on pop songwriting. The music is all jagged edges and percussive clatter, from the chiming and squawking guitars to the pile of junkyard percussion that’s their trademark. And it’s so brisk and tightly wound that the entire CD bristles with urgency.

That’s quite an accomplishment for numbers with lyrics that often take the hoky course of demented nursery rhymes (“Once there was a man who stood/ He nailed his feet into the wood”), but there’s a kind of thematic strategy at work. These tunes, from the demented stomp “One Way, My Way” to the loping, dark rocker “Candy,” the Caligari blues of “The Barker of Dupes,” and the surge-and-stop charge “King Know It All,” dip into the poisons of arrogance and ignorance to spin brief character studies about slightly different breeds of asshole. A concept album? A cynical view of humanity? Maybe, but literal meaning is second to the insistent power of these 11 songs, which mostly clomp along with juggernaut determination. The last track is the exception: a twisted lullaby that could be a obsessive’s suicide note, with a ragged, strained vocal and accompaniment so affected it seems as if it were being ripped from a time warp, the instruments distorted into slow dark howls of sound.

— Ted Drozdowski

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