The 10 Best Bay Area Albums of 2016: Musk, ‘Musk 2: The Second Skumming’

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Musk (L-R): Brendan Leonard, Rob Fletcher, John Laux and Chris Owen (Photo: Corey Arnold)

Musk is the scent of unwanted materials that were moist for too long. It's the smell of organisms growing in deep, dark places that no one wants to visit. It's the stink that comes from unwashed balls after they've marinated in sweat. It's a word that few associate with pleasantries, and it's also a band from Oakland who are dead set on challenging your senses.

The music Musk plays sounds like it comes from a dank basement, written by guys who the rest of world forgot. Their influences are obvious: late '80s noise rock, raw country balladry of '70s-era Rolling Stones or early Beasts Of Bourbon, and even the jazzier parts of the Birthday Party. Yet somehow in their shambolic, crumbly tunes they find enough space to jam like Led Zeppelin, but instead of taking stabs at bloated, wannabe-funk, Musk uses the moments to run wild, bashing and crashing and screaming and wailing. Give the band 20 minutes and what you'll hear will be unpredictable -- in a good way.

Cover art for Musk's 'Musk 2: The Second Skumming'
Cover art for Musk's 'Musk 2: The Second Skumming' (Art by Rob Vertigo)

In essence, the band's second album, Musk 2: The Second Skumming, is a nervous breakdown caught on tape. There's a lot of moodiness and drama. The songs sound fresh, organic and in no way mathematically-composed like most other rock tracks (verse-bridge-chorus-verse, etc). Guitarist Chris Owen doesn't even really play riffs; there are riffs in there, but much of the time Owen is just letting his guitar feedback, accenting certain verses with ice pick stabs of fuzz guitar. Sometimes he hits notes that make your eyes twitch.

The Second Skumming is such a unique beast because it's so obvious that it only came together because of the four people working on it. Owen's guitar antics, the slow and steady bass playing of John Laux, Brendan Leonard's Keith Moon-like drumming, and Rob "Vertigo" Fletcher's yipping and howling are all necessary ingredients for this underground masterpiece. Sadly, that model of the machine will not be making music anymore, since Leonard recently left Oakland for Boston. But the band chugs along with a new drummer, and they still have that unfiltered magic when they play live. Personally, I think it's because they're not writing music for the radio -- they're creating a spectacle. They were left to write their songs in mildew-caked Oakland, and what resulted was exciting and ugly.


Hey, no one ever said art had to be pretty.


CCR Headcleaner, 'Tear Down the Wall'
Caleborate, '1993'
E-40, 'The D-Boy Diaries Books 1 &2'
Fantastic Negrito, 'The Last Days of Oakland'
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, 'A Man Alive'
Jay Som, 'Turn Into'