Almost half of Erik Sanko's solo debut deals with his love life,
post-some-nasty-breakup. While a bitter song about how love sucks is nice to
hear every now and then, Sanko dives right into the world of
singer-songwriter self-indulgence. The album's success, therefore, depends upon its music, because
after a couple of songs it's clear that this born-again romantic won't talk
about anything but how he feels about "you" -- a "you" who, as in
Elliott Smith's romantic ballads, is a former lover.
Fortunately, gambling on Sanko's songwriting skills is a safe bet, as his music is
much more innovative and refreshing than his lyrics. Each of the songs seems
like a separate experiment in arrangement and style. The opener, "While You
Were Out", is one of the most innovatively simplistic, guitar-led songs I've
ever heard. Guided by two melody-driven guitars and Sanko's haunting, Robert
Wyatt-esque voice, the melodies come in and out of minor sixths, melt around
each other, and fold back out. The next song is also melody-oriented, but it
is much simpler, leaving the listener in a trancelike state which is abruptly
broken by "That Train" -- a livelier, roots-rock song. "The Perfect Flaw"
follows with an Eastern-tinged synthesizer, in the spirit of Vangelis (!).
Sanko's intriguing variety of styles allows the listener to ignore such
mediocre love lines as "Did I fall too hard? / Did I break the law? / Have I
fallen for the perfect flaw?" Similarly, that kind of experimentation will
give you the goodwill to excuse "Blow Wind, Blow" altogether, as a failed
"experiment" surrounded by more novel and successful ones.
Sanko, formerly of the Lounge Lizards and Skeleton Key, has taken his plunge into
the world of solo recording with mixed but ultimately satisfying results. The album
as a whole is pleasantly under-produced; Sanko has given it a lax yet
haunting feel. In addition to this, he has enough musical talent to give
each track a separate life. Unfortunately the only way to feel its full, intended
impact would be to go through a breakup before purchasing the album. Past Imperfect, Present Tense arrived in stores last week, so you'd better start cheating now.