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Skeleton Key

Release Date: 2002
Record label: NA
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.


Extra Chunky
by: matt cibula

The word "genius" is thrown around a lot in music. Well, get ready: I'm gonna throw it around a little more. Mark Bandola, who is Typewriter, has joined the club.

Bandola used to be in college-rock heroes the Lucy Show back in the days, but since then he's been gigging and kicking around from project to project. He's a member of London electro-rock trio Ausgang, but Skeleton Key is Bandola's first album as a solo artist. It's 67 minutes long, it incorporates recordings from 1978 through 2002, and it veers wildly between just about every single style of music you've ever heard of.

And it's beautiful. It's not sophisticated or "cool" in the least—if this record was peanut butter, it'd be classified extra chunky. The transitions between the tracks are sometimes harsh, and the musical styles butted up against each other don't always make what's called "sense." But that's just a good argument against "sense." Because when songs are this good, nothing else matters.

Case in point: "When Our Lost Lamb Returns." It's got echoes of Brian Eno's early-70s solo work (Here Come the Warm Jets, for example, or Taking Tiger Mountain (Through Strategy)), of late-60s garage-rock, of 80s synth-pop, late-70s Chic-funk, 90s indie rock—but it's So Much More than all that. It sounds like it's been in my mental Walkman forever.

Case in point: "It's Everything." This is a bastard child of Brian Wilson indeed, with its early chimes and its wistful melody. Bandola's voice hides behind its own echoes while a psychedelic phase-effect keeps us off balance. No clue what he's going on about, but the various strands (which include very similar synth and guitar lines) keep intersecting and coming back together like a really cool hoedown.

Case in point: "City Lights Flightpath." It's indie-rock techno, like if Bobby Gillespie didn't have so many damned toys in the studio. A cheap-ass drum pattern gives way to another one; a keyboard squiggle jumps on the back of another one, and tension builds for two minutes—then, the bass kicks in. And suddenly, it's really a nice little confusing little weird little funky little dance song. And then the guitars start stabbing in one by one. And then something starts to shimmer. Shall I really explain how suddenly, on track 24 of a 31-track psych-pop-rock-avant-trip, you actually get a satisfying funky breakdown?

There's even the exception that proves the rule: "3 Lesbians and a Baby" is an awful song. The guest vocal/lyric by Holly Penfield is, simply, awful; good-hearted, perhaps, in its embrace of alternative lifestyles (one of the "lesbians" is a cross-dressing guy), but I just can't understand WHERE IS THE DAMNED BABY? She ends the song talking about a baby, but where did it come from? I didn't know, so I emailed Bandola, and he got right back to me, guessing that it's kind of a "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" sorta thing. He didn't know either, and apparently he doesn't even really care. How cool is that? Pretty cool, actually.

Okay, I don't know if Mark Bandola is a genius or not, and I don't really care. (If I had to guess, I'd say yes, but it doesn't matter.) But I do think he's made a genius record here, and I do think that my world is a better place for having it in my collection, and I do think that your world will be better for it too. 16-Apr-2003 10:06 PM