Review Summary: Skin Yard's debut isn't like anything else to come out of the grunge movement, and unfortunately the otherwise fantastic album is watered down by one too many very similar tracks, and a hit or miss vocalist.
This is a review of the 1992 re-issue, which includes seven additional songs (tracks 10-16) not found on the original 1987 version, while removing one song (track 6) that did appear on that version.
Skin Yard's self titled debut came at a time when the "Seattle Sound" was still very much in development, not to mention far from the public eye. Skin Yard's lineup for this album features legendary Soundgarden and Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron (drums), prominent Sub Pop producer Jack Endino (guitar), and Gruntruck vocalist Ben McMillan (vocals.) Daniel House rounds up the lineup on the bass guitar. Outside of the production, this album really doesn't sound anything like you would expect it to. Instead of the simple, punk-esque songs that were the mainstay of many "grunge" bands, Skin Yard favors a rhythm based, experimental sound that is marred only by the limited vocals and mediocre guitar work.
The album starts off with "Skins In My Closet" which is hands down the best song on the disc. McMillan's vocals run the gamut here, wailing, hissing, and singing his way through a song that undergoes several interesting tempo changes and successfully creates a very creepy atmosphere. Unfortunately, McMillan is a rather limited vocalist, lacking any kind of range or power, and he just drones along on most of the songs. His style isn't for everyone and will definitely be a turn off for people who favor a more emotive, "talented" singer.
Skin Yard favors a more hands off production style on this album. The bass is thankfully audible throughout, and the lack of polish gives the album an organic feel that really adds to songs like "The Birds" "Dear Deceased" and "Out of The Attic." Fans of Soundgarden will feel right at home with the guitar tones, which sound very similar to their pre-Badmotorfinger works. The hi pitched, screeching tone is about all that the two share in this department, however, as Skin Yard doesn't have the memorable riffs or blistering solos that were so prominent on Soundgarden's early works. In fact, the guitar is rather nondescript on most of the songs, not actively bad but rarely noteworthy either (the instrumental song "Scratch" is an exception to this.)
The real standout is the duo of Daniel House and Matt Cameron. The two are in perfect synchronization here, and the result is an extremely enjoyable, fundamentally sound album for bass and drum enthusiasts. Matt is a proficient drummer, and here he is at top form, producing very busy yet well fitting drum patterns. Unfortunately, there are no tom-heavy songs like what he would later do with Soundgarden (Spoonman, as a quick example,) but he does a great job with the rapid fire tempo changes that are a hallmark of this album. Daniel House, on the other hand, is someone I had never heard of before sitting down to listen to this, but he leaves a very powerful impression after carefully listening to the album. His tone is nothing special, but he does a great job in tandem with Cameron in lying down some great rhythms, and even manages to pull off some really tasty flourishes.
Despite the strength of these two members, the second half of the album lags in quality to the first. This might be because these songs were "tacked on" after the release, and therefore were never intended to be heard, or just because the band's style is pretty limited. The second half of the album gets very, very boring despite the complexities of the instrumentation because little effort is made to mix up the actual sound. Of the final eight songs, only The Birds truly sticks out. This song features a saxophone, interesting lyrics, prominent backing vocals, and a fantastic bass line. The album closes on a disappointing note, with a terribly uninspiring cover of David Bowie's "She Shook Me Cold." This live recording is probably my least favorite song on the entire album because it fails to evoke the creepy, brooding atmosphere prevalent on so many of the songs. There is a great instrumental section roughly three quarters in, but the singing is really not suited for this song, and the recording is of middling quality at best.
Skin Yard's debut album is a good album, and one far more intricate than most of the grunge bands at the time bothered with, but it is far from great. There are too many utterly forgettable tracks, and McMillan's vocals detract more than they add for much of the album. The songs sound pretty good when listened to one at a time, but sitting down and listening to the whole album is very boring- you notice they all sound the same! This is a must try for any fans of grunge, just to see how many permutations that the movement had, and also to see several seminal figures before they became more influential. Everyone else will want to try out a few tracks, as there is plenty of promise and even more enjoyable, atmospheric music on this album.
Skins in the Closet
The Blind Leading The Blind