Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Skyward - Self titled

Skyward are originally a product of the Harrisonburg, Virginia area and the five members initially met during their shared time at James Madison University. The band is based out of the Charlottesville, Virginia now and has played in the neighborhood of five hundred shows since they began active gigging. The next logical step in their path to notoriety, a full length album release, finds the band turning in an eleven song collection full of melody, compelling synth sounds, and bombastic, but never nonsensical, guitar. The lyrical content is, likewise, top notch and brings an additional level of quality to the release. Superb production is the sonic icing on the cake – the eleven songs on their debut are presented in the best possible way with clarity and balance an apparent principle in the final mix.  

It opens with two interlinked tracks. “Daily” and “Casualty” are works dealing with serious themes, but Skyward presents their lyrical narratives surrounded by a vast canopy of sound that sets the mood as intensely dramatic, but ultimately triumphant. The speakers in Skyward’s songs take their share of lumps from life roughhousing them, but no one is ever completely defeated. Jordan Breeding’s guitar work often sounds like he is wrestling with his guitar neck, trying to wring out new sounds and tones that match the intensity around him, and invariably succeeds. “Animal” is much more stripped back when compared to the rest of the album and has a low- gritty menace not readily connected to the other material. Breeding’s guitar is much more restrained and concentrates intently on strengthening the song’s rhythmic spine. “Stand-Ins” is another memorable moment thanks to the rolling riff and strong groove propelling it forward. Groove based are at a preminum on this release, but the band shows a strong penchant for them when they so indulge themselves.

Much more of the heavy-lidded menace heard in “Animal” finds its way into the later song “Burn”. Skyward are talented enough as songwriters that they can invoke mood with only a few notes and this track is, arguably, one of the album’s premier expressions of that skill. Anna Breeding’s contributions as a second, largely backing, vocalist are critical for the balance they provide. The musical intensity continues to climb with the album’s seventh track “Now”, a wide-eyed passionate workout that never really relents from the first note on. There is much of the light and shade dynamic heard in earlier rock cuts, but Skyward can never quite resist the temptation to pepper the track with a number of subtleties contributing to the overall whole. “Crows and Wolves” utilizes a smattering of natural imagery previously unheard on the album to darken another much more meditative outing for the band. This isn’t an outfit who needs to overwhelm listeners sonically in order to establish mood. Instead, “Crows and Wolves” achieves its effects through the marriage of music alongside Huang and Breeding’s different, yet equally magnificent, voices. This is a debut album of many different colors, sounds, and emotions. Skyward takes listeners on a highly imaginative and often deeply personal journey that helps the release stand out as one of the year’s finest efforts. 

9 out of 10 stars. 

Joshua Stryde

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