Eric Sanko has been playing in bands since his teenage years. After playing for nearly 10 years playing bass in the Lounge Lizards, he joined up with some friends for one album as the group Skeleton Key. Now, several years after that release, he's joining the ranks of singer/songwriters, except not quite in the typical way. With influences that range from Kurt Weill to Tom Waits to Captain Beefheart and others, Past Imperfect, Present Tense isn't just the run-of-the-mill vocals and guitar lineup.
Although the liner notes don't list instruments played on the release, you can hear everything from a ticking metronome, a drum machine, sampled bits of vocals and sounds, a theremin, and other various elements. The music on the disc ranges from alt-country influenced tracks to music that reminds one of a twisted, ramble-shack street corner singer. Guitars, bass, and drums round help to round out the backing instrumentation, while vocals range from being mixed full-on to sounding like they're being sung through a cheap set of walkie-talkies.
"While You Were Out" opens up the disc and a twanging banjo and ghostly theremin lend a melancholy feel to the rather sparse track while the lyrics cut right to the point dealing with the end of a relationship. After another short, quiet track, the album lets loose with "That Train," a jangly country-tinged track with multitrack vocals that only add to the loose feel. One of the interesting things about the first couple tracks (and several more on the disc) is that although Sanko comes from a background of playing bass, most of them work without much of a dominant rhythm section.
Instead, the most strong tracks on the release work with a nice guitar melody and vocals by Sanko combined with one or two other strange elements to keep things interesting. Perhaps trying to get away from the polyrhythmic part of Skeleton Key as much as possible, Sanko has created 11 tracks that focus on a more stripped-down sound. "The Ghost Of A Snake" is one of the most eerie tracks on the disc with a repeated guitar part and vocals that sound like they're coming in on a static-filled radio while a drum machine thumps out a heartbeat rhythm. It has something in common with the lo-fi sounding work on Sparklehorse's Good Morning Spider, as well as the dark, carny singer sounds of "Blow Wind, Blow."
For some reason, even the computerized backup voice on "I Get Along Fine" (used by Radiohead, among tons of other people) works pretty well as a fine accompaniment to the silly love song. For the most part, the rest of the songs on the disc focus on relationships and/or the lack thereof. Tracks are short and to the point, and the instrumentation stays fairly varied throughout the 37 minute release. Nothing too groundbreaking, but a solid release from the artist.