John Hickman is an indie as it gets. Self-financed thanks to his previous career as an aerospace engineer, Hickman isn’t beholden to a record company or any other sort of tastemaker for his first full length release Remnants. It shows. This is a far-reaching collection that exceeds anyone’s reasonable expectations for a debut because of how hard it goes after different approaches and succeeds each time. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a man who has literally spent years refining and reworking his craft in anticipation for this moment, Remnants doesn’t sport any filler at all. Instead, each of the album’s dozen songs are exquisitely tailored in such a way that they will connect, at least at some point, with virtually every listener over the age of thirty and many younger. This isn’t music for a teenager, but there’s little question that Hickman writes, sings and plays with the gusto of a young man setting out to conquer the world for the first time.
Drums like those opening the first track “Cascade” certainly sound like a call to arms. The heavily rhythmic percussion and accompanying synthesizer lines usher listeners into the track with great drama and the energy only keeps rising from there. Hickman’s vocal brims over with confidence and he sounds like he’s with every line. “Escape” has a much different tone, closer to uncompromising hard rock, but Hickman is wise enough to alternate it with different passages where he pulls back some on the six string assault. His voice never sounds out of place in this environment. Another stylistic about face comes with the striding, confident “Hello Hello” and Hickman’s accompanying vocal full of inspiration and light. The mood shifts again with the vibrant acoustic colors and textures invoked in the understated and gorgeous “Passing Thru”. Even when Hickman revisits long standing clichés in song, he hits them with such panache that they assume the veneer of the new and sound remarkably refreshed by his treatment.
The cinematic grandeur of “Remains of the Human Race” takes a seemingly bare bones structure and builds a monumental effort from it dependent, primarily, on Hickman’s strong storytelling aspects and the remarkably detailed science fiction vision the song pushes on listeners. He reverts back to a much more down to earth approach on the next song “Soiled Dove”. It’s another strong example of Hickman taking familiar tropes in popular entertainment and song, the fallen woman, and investing it with something entirely different than most of us have heard before. His empathy for the character comes through in his vocal and never sounds patronizing. “What Have You Done?”, the first of three huge ballads near the album’s end, soars thanks to Hickman’s wide-eyed willingness to explore his vocal range to the fullest extent. The lyrics, as well, rank among the albums finest and Hickman does a brilliant job conveying their message. The album’s final cut, “While Everyone Was Sleeping”, is a return to Hickman’s rockier roots and he acquits himself on guitar quite well for a final time. Remnants is an invigorating listen from first song to last and anyone who encounters this album will likely find themselves wondering aloud when he’ll release another.
9 out of 10 stars