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Friday, August 29, 2014

Skinner Box - s/t

Name: Skinner Box
Album: s/t
Year: 1988
Style: Folk, Ethereal, Gothic, New Age
Similar Bands: Dead Can Dance, Enigma, Cocteau Twins, Tangerine Dream, Aphex Twin, Aimee Mann, Residents
"One Word" Review: Warbley New-Age Space-Goth
Based Out Of: Los Angeles, Ca
Label: Bobok LTD, Red Rhino /Cartel
 Skinner Box - Cover, Record, Lyrics
Skinner Box - Back, Liner Notes, Insert
Skinner Box (1988)
  1. Drowning Street 2:44
  2. Field of Holes 3:29
  3. Slide of Glass 2:23
  4. Grenadine 2:42
  5. A Low Bird (instrum) 2:22
  6. The Turnaround 5:13
  7. Proud Flesh 3:02
  8. File Under R (instrum.) 3:13
  9. Born to Be Ice (instrum) 3:41
  10. At the Portal (instrum.) 2:21
Album Rating (1-10): 3.0

Members & Other Bands:
Julianna Towns - Vox, Composition, Production, Guitar, Keys, Bass, Flute, Harmonica (Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Peace Corpse, Hue & Cry, Molsem Birth)
Mark Erskine - Drums, Timbales, Bongos, Clarinet, Vox, Composition, Front Cover Illustration (Savage Republic)
William Sassenberger - Guitar (Peace Corpse, Molsem Birth, Toxic Shock Records)
Gustav Holst - Translation of intro on The Turnaround, from "To Veruna" of the Rig Veda
Biff Sanders - Recording
Diane Pettengill - Layout
Lance Boyle - Typesetting

Unknown-Ness: I bought this one in the early days of TSM collecting, and I think it was just in some pile of stuff that I bought because I had not heard of it. Sometimes, something as simple as NOT being Johnny Mathis or Perry Como can be the justification for buying an unknown record. This one has a very native American feel to it with the red ink, almost tribal tattoo artwork on a grey stone background. I imagine this to be something earthy. What aspect of earthy I’m not sure: new age or nu-metal or something in between. I’m not sure I’ll like it, nor am I sure I’d pick this up again based on its artwork or date if it were in a larger dollar bin / thrift store of opportunity.

Album Review: I could not find too much about this band, although signs point to a couple of albums from this band, which is mainly singer Julianna Towns, who has been part of a couple other more popular bands. Solo work brought under a band nomenclature.

“Drowning Street” starts with a very earthy and liquid guitar, reminding me of a style of Aphex Twin’s ambient songs. The singing is not far off from Aimee Mann’s voice, just a little darker and deeper. The song is punctuated with deep and heavy drums, off tuned guitar notes and echoing crashes. It does have a tribal sense to it and feels like it is trying to recreate an eerie thunderstorm.
“Field of Holes” from the first chime, the same dark tones are present, but it takes on a middle eastern feel with bongos and meandering guitars. But that is just the slightest bit of Indian influence. The vocals are a version of 60’s psych, somewhat monotone chant singing with an echoey production. Near the end of the song, like a zombie, male vocals are added to bolster the droning melody, and the song quietly slips away.
“Slide of Glass” has a buzzing sitar like note in the beginning, but the song picks up a rocking melody with a creepy, residents like effect placed on the instruments. This is all male vocals, and is observational art monotone singing that an actual melody. The song relies on an alarm like synth note that is added in the back end to create a substantial wall of noise.
“Grenadine” takes us back to the warbley new age dream sequence of the first two tracks. This is the kind of echoing chimey music you would hear as ambience pouring from the speakers in a new age crystal, wicca and magic shop in New Hope circa 1993.
“A Low Bird” is the first of three instrumentals, and it contains all of the new age elements as described earlier. The tones of the song remind me of how Bohdai, the alien ball of light from Solar Babies, would talk to Lucas Haas, Jason Patrick, Jamie Gertz, and the rest of the hero group. Seeing as this album was released 2 years after the film, we can only assume both were of the same demographic. Even though I still love Solarbabies, but am not that big of a fan of this

“The Turnaround” continues on the new age theme, but carries almost a celtic funeral feeling to this: bleakness and mourning are present emotions to the melody. A man’s voice recites a poem or story of some sort (not unlike the Sugarcubes or Belle & Sebastian) over the eerily music. This has all the feel of a new age interpretive dance, where the vocals are the inner dialogue of a mime portraying his feelings. This has nothing that I look for in music.
“Proud Flesh” does nothing to mix things up. Dark tones of echoing bells, like a metal xylophone or tubular bells play out with a dead woman’s chant ghostly gliding over the top. The vocals are layered, creating a chorus effect, angelic buy deadly at the same time. This takes the creepy element of the Residents and really boils it down to a basic form.
“File Under R” is a long instrumental track keeping its metaphorical head down and running straight through the repertoire. There is a more optimistic side to this track. There is an 80’s new wave song that I can’t put my finger on that sounds a lot like this…maybe someday I’ll come across it again. It is composed of echoing guitar with haunting chords rise from behind with muted ice breaking percussion in support.
“Born to Be Ice” fades in with a buzzing flute along side a second woodwind sound.  After the intro, it feels like tones and random notes meant to support a story telling element like a film score, or radio show. Then as quickly as it began, with some large, muted sounds reminding me of a rhino or elephant, the short instrumental part of the track ends. And it returns to the cold new age music and more spoken word storytelling overlaid. This is an exercise in jazzy new age music with interpretive beatnick art spilling out all over the place. Windy effects create chilling, twilight zone effects, and the avant-garde performance piece runs through with a final echo.
“At the Portal” again has more optimistic new age celestial music echo and play out angelically. The whole song has a rising on a warm stream of air feel to it, but it lacks a concrete matter, and is just ideas and fluff. For a second, the ideal trembles, but as the song and album concludes, sun is the victor, and the good guy seems to have come out on top. This is just shit.

Stand Out Track: Slide of Glass

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