Music

Skeleton Key Band

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Seemingly powered by pistons and gears and rusty watch springs, Skeleton Key is a clanky but soulful machine. Using ancient microphones, primitive guitars, and found objects, Skeleton Key’s music has a deep knack for winsome melody and yet heaves with an overwhelming rythmic undertow, all wrapped in a battered steel necklace of junkyard percussion.

The groove starts with Stephen Calhoon’s passionate, powerhouse drumming and Rick Lee’s inventive scrap metal bashing, working its way up through Erik Sanko’s jaunty low-end lope and on into Chris Maxwell’s delectably skronky guitar. And with either Sanko, Maxwell, or Lee singing, the vocals sound just like the voice inside your head.

The band’s contrasting backgrounds reflect their individual styles. Chris is from Arkansas, Steve is a D.C. native, Rick grew up in Portland, Oregon, and Erik hails from New York City, where they all met and started Skeleton Key in 1994. Local shows became more and more packed as the band’s live show became more and more explosive. Over the past year, Skeleton Key has shared stages with a diverse assortment of bands including Girls Against Boys, Pere Ubu, Railroad Jerk, Cibo Matto, The Jesus Lizard, Morphine, Boss Hog, and Helmet- all of whom are fans.

“Skeleton Key,” wrote John Nikolai in The Scene, “were one of the best bands this writer has ever seen.” And Skeleton Key was voted one of the top live bands in New York in the 1995 New York Press Readers Poll. U.K. label Dedicated released Skeleton Key’s first single in October of 1995 and Alternative Press senior editor Jason Pettigrew called it “one of the best singles of the year.”

With their new self-titled EP, Skeleton Key has achieved what so few great live bands have done: transfer the excitement and raw edge of their shows onto tape. The tense, desperate “The World’s Most Famous Undertaker,” gives way to “Nod Off,” which pounds with a cantankerous African-derived rythm. Next is “Solitaire” and its dark pop thrills, then the pensive and appropriately aqueous “You Might Drown” wishes an ex-lover well. “Hoboerotica” (dfescription of a found piece of pornographic outsider art) is a spontaneous jam in progress that captures Skeleton Key’s particular magic. And “The Spreading Stain” is about not being able to keep a grip on snowballing events in one’s life- which is something that might just happen to Skeleton Key once this EP hits an unsuspecting public.