I’ve picked up a number of new albums over the past few months, all of them welcome additions. Some of them will mainly just flesh out my randomizing library, but two in particular have entered heavy rotation.
First of these is Skeleton Key, a great, under-appreciated band that combines funk grooves, grungy guitars, and inventive auxiliary percussion into a distinctive and infectious alternative pop sound. This band’s catchy riffs and melodies are tightly arranged, propelled by an undercurrent of rattletrap machinery, as pots and pans and scrap metal punctuate the beats — imagine Fat Albert’s Junkyard Band repurposed as a heavy alternative group, with Tom Waits occasionally producing, and you’ve got the general idea. Gravity is the Enemy (2012) is their first full-length studio album in ten years, and it’s aptly named. Frontman Erik Sanko’s voice is rawer, and the rhythm section’s usual clockwork precision has a heavier weight than usual, as if the band is valiantly resisting entropy. While a few numbers don’t quite know when to quit, for the most part I’m finding it highly listenable and addictive stuff. My favorite tracks: “Museum Glass,” “Human Pin Cushion,” “Little Monster,” “Everybody’s Crutch,” “Every Hero.”
The second comes from Darth Vegas, a band I had high hopes for when I special ordered their debut album nine years ago. This Australian postmodern ensemble found its way onto my radar when I read them described as a Mr. Bungle descendant that models itself on the Star Wars cantina band. That first album was fun, but then I lost track of them. Now, not only is that debut album finally available on iTunes, they’ve got a new one that’s even better (by a longshot), Brainwashing for Dirty Minds (2012). This album is an endlessly inventive kitchen sink of instruments and influences, borrowing liberally from jazz, metal, ska, lounge, and…well, just about every other genre. This is deeply weird music with a perverse and playful sense of humor, from its opening spookhouse jazz-metal number “Gritos Dulces,” to the demented 70s gameshow Latin of “Music for a Haitian Voodoo Priestess,” to its utterly silly album-ending Nintendo 64 medley of themes from every track. This band will annoy the shit out of some people, but I love it…and is that the best band name ever, or what? Favorite tracks: “Gritos Dulces,” “Prokletsvo Gummina Kokoshke,” “Music for a Haitian Voodoo Priestess,” “Kopf Verloren,” “Waltz of the Pumpkins,” “Swami Salami,” “Things That Go Bump in the Night.”
As for other recent album pick-ups, I found the new Meshuggah album, Koloss (2012), an inessential extension of their cacophonic math-metal repertoire — some good tracks, but nothing all that groundbreaking compared to some of their mindblowing earlier releases. After a while, this stuff just starts to sound like the same thing over again. Similarly — in a really different way — the full-length Dumpstaphunk release Everybody Want Some (2010) fleshes out their presence in my iTunes nicely, but probably won’t work its way into heavy rotation. I think I prefer funk as a flavor, rather than a focus, and a full album sometimes feels like too much of a good thing. Happy to hear their tunes kick up now and then, though.
That’s probably why my second Tribal Tech grab, Thick (1999), is more welcome. There’s plenty of funk flavor here, mixed in with jazz fusion and accomplished instrumental improv — but not so much of any one element to get stale. Probably not as impressive as Rocket Science for me, but still good stuff. And the same can be said for Tribal Tech bass player Gary Willis’ solo album Actual Fiction (2007), an impressive showcase for his chops, more jazz-funk fusion with some interesting sampling and mixing giving it a unique spin. Stand-out track for me is easily “Eye Candy.” Good albums, all, with the Darth Vegas definitely standing out as an early favorite.