Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bob Drake - The Skull Mailbox (Crumbling Tomes, 2001)

Perched on the (impossibly lit) lamppost that stands at the crossroads in the heart of the middle of nowhere, the old busker overlooks this lonely, barren terrain, his own by birthright or territorial warfare we'll never know, and allows a thin, dry chuckle to emanate from blackened lungs. He's stolen the sanity of many a man, some just for larks and some for arcane purposes which to even hint at would bring swift, total madness, but he always left 'em smiling. Even laughing. Laughing or gibbering brainlessly; same difference, really. He’s always had that effect on people. Just because the world has been revealed as a meaningless nightmare of shapeless phantasms and consciousness-devouring blasphemies controlled by malevolent forces beyond our comprehension doesn't mean we still can't have poke some fun at the whole shebang once in a while. Besides, once you get past the knee-jerk terror reflex (and the smell) shapeless phantasms can be quite hilarious, what with all the groping blindly and shambling and howling and whatnot. The slender man in the funny hat, now slithering down from his nest, is surely aware of this fact and has played on the dichotomy with the same dexterity he brings to his fiddlework: no one wants to be digested by iridescent ectoplasm, save for some fetishists best left unmentioned, but everyone loves to see some cocky amateur medium or scoffing skeptic get their inevitable comeuppance. What, he seems to inquire, despite being quite sure of the answer, could be more uplifting than supernatural schadenfreude? Just as watching someone (someone unreal, someone remote) having their brains splatter across the freeway at a hundred MPH makes us more aware of both our own mortality and how often we escape its clutches, encountering someone else (perhaps fictional, perhaps not, perhaps somewhere between) experiencing the total evisceration of everything they've ever held as truth forces us to confront the limits of our own sanity and perhaps strengthen them. And when faced with annihilation at the hands of unseen or unreal forces, perhaps one begins to see shufflin’ off this mortal coil thanks to old age or a car accident as sweet mercy disguised as dullness.

But the man of the hour cares not for this parlor room philosophy; his foremost duty remains to entertain whatever meager travelers pass his way. To entertain and bestow his crooked trickster’s sense of justice, if necessary. And it just so happens that at this very moment a pair of pathetic paripatetics is coming over the horizon. As the figures increase in size from ant-sized dots to bee-sized dots, he hopes these boys don’t hold lucidity too dear and wonders out loud about possible synonyms for ‘squamous.’


The Skull Mailbox is probably Bob Drake's most straightforward record, though we're dealing in relatives here. It avoids excess Science Group-esque proggery (not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you) and conceptual overload (again, not bashin' it) and delivers a cluster of equally catchy and murky ditties with titles like "They Live in the Well," "The Wig Screamed Murder," "The Unmentionable Inhabitant" and "Crepuscular Vestibule," which is what we all really want in music, is it not? Discussing musical parallels seems secondary to charting the overall aesthetic waters he treads here: Paul Roland has hit on this mood of morbid jubilation on multiple occasions, though his explicitly Lovecraftian works, akin to the majority of songs by the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, are too blandly rockist to afford much staying power to the texts. Like almost too much of my favorite music, literary allusions help pin this on the map more than comparisons to other albums: to be reductive, much of this is Gorey if Gorey read Lovecraft. Sure I could find some more obscure authors to allude to for lit cred, but this gets the point across. The raison d’etre here is terrible occult happenings viewed through the lens of blackest, driest humour. People die madly in cellars and party with giant weasels. A peculiarly Gorey/Snicket-like fascination with the aesthetically preposterous/unwieldy definite article-adjective-noun encapsulation of logically preposterous scenes emerges: “The Shocking Efflorescence,” “The Miraculous Reliquary,” “The Demented Statuary,” “The Unmentionable Inhabitant,” “The Tragic Séance.” They resemble the titles of weird tales that one can never be completely sure if they are serious or not, which is fitting, as the albums plays out like a collection of short stories linked only by misfortune. This vignette form would be pushed to its furthest limits on his tragically misunderstood The Shunned Country, which consists of more than fifty nearly microscopic incidents of the weird intruding on the mundane in inevitably hilarious and disturbing fashion. Call it the Pseudo-Science Group and be done, if you must.

There will be another paragraph here once I get some sleep, promise.


  1. Could you please reupload this one?
    I really love Bob Drake's music and this album seems to be especially great.
    The link is not dead, but there's always an error when I try to download.
    Thanks in advance.

  2. You could buy it from me for 10 dollars, I know that might sound crazy to suggest buying a CD in these days of taking work for free, but, well, you know...

    By the way, thanks for that nice review.