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past imperfect, present tense
Erik Sanko
Past Imperfect, Present Tense

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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.

-- Josh Kazman
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