Eldridge Skell

Sookie Jump

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Stiffs and strangeness-devoid people, leave now! For your own sake! ...OK, now that we're among friends, let's study this oddball debut album by one Eldridge Skell's The Rude Staircase. Even if you've heard your fair share of off-the-wall albums, pop and otherwise, Sookie Jump will clearly be among the most peculiar things your ears have ever heard. There's a lot of pop music in there, from Elvis Presley to the B-52's, but also circus music, avant jazz, weird Americana, nouveau-swing, hillbilly, go-go organ records, and Rock in Opposition, for a partial list. These styles and influences are drawn from, integrated, deviated, and occasionally ridiculed by a band listing 17 members (obviously not all present on every track, although on some pieces, there seem to be even more of them) and helmed by Skell -- vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and sole songwriter of this enigmatic unit. The other very important person on this album's crew is mixing engineer Bob Drake (Thinking Plague, 5uu's, Hail), whose deeper-than-deep sonic picture is what articulates this whole jumble of musicians and styles into a (very) listenable work of music. The theremin-led "Variations on a Theme by Michael Jackson" kicks off the album with a very nice start, although Skell's voice is grating at first. "A Gaggle of Swans" and "March of the D9 Caterpillar" feature the bouncing beats and male-and-female vocal harmonies that warrant the comparison to the B-52's. "Houses Are Burning" and "Cranes" have more than a faint scent of the Art Bears, although Fred Frith and company never displayed this kind of raunchy musical and lyrical humor. Sookie Jump reaches a maniacal peak in "Telephone, Telephone," a bombastic circus freak of a song that might sound like a big-band version of Miriodor with a singer -- that comparison is tedious at best, but as good as any to describe the crazy platter Eldridge Skell has cooked up. Strongly recommended.

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