Compounding XTC’s dryly bent complexity with the unintimidating boho adventurism of its own instrumental virtuosity, New York’s Fertile Crescent — Staten Island native Erik Sanko (vocals/bass), Danny Blume (guitar/vocals) and Ben Perowsky (drums/vocals) — gives melodic art-pop an intelligent, friendly poke on The Fertile Crescent. It’s a good try, but the individually impressive ingredients never quite add up to a fully integrated and focused band. Sanko’s lyrics fold a bit of whimsy into literate observations and reflections without defining a clear persona; Blume unleashes a dash of Adrian Belew-like gut-busting now and again but otherwise stays out of the spotlight; Perowsky’s delicacy suits some passages better than others. The pieces fall in place for “Where on Earth,” “I’ve Seen” and “Leave Me Alone,” but otherwise The Fertile Crescent doesn’t sound quite ready for harvesting.
In late ’94, Sanko — also an in-demand sideman who has worked extensively with the Lounge Lizards and Marc Ribot as well as John Cale — formed a new group named after his music publishing company, Skeleton Key. Rounded out by guitarist Chris Maxwell, drummer Stephen Calhoon and scrap-metal percussionist Rick Lee, the quartet quickly became a hot club attraction and the object of a 1995 major-label bidding war. The group’s self-titled debut EP appeared the following year.