Monday, November 17, 2014
Album Review: Skyharbor – Guiding Lights
For starters, the album art by Michael De Lonardo is simply gorgeous. The flaring streaks of light and graduated pink shading create the illusion of slow-motion whilst the subject matter plays on the enormity of the subjects lurking within. Most likely taking inspiration from the birth, late last year, of his first child, lead vocalist Daniel Tompkins’ lyrics deal with the rough concepts of birth, re-birth, life choices, death, evolution and entropy. The music matches up working as an exploration of sound and mood, and as such takes them away from the heavy rhythms employed on their début. Here they linger in the twin realms of post-rock and dream pop, reaching out to the ambient qualities of bands like Palms, Oceansize, and Uneven Structure.
Though there is a beautiful flow to the music and an aching search to make colourful connections to what might be termed the modern pop song, they do still indulge themselves in dragging the music away from the standard, more recognisable structures, often dissecting tracks into two or three-part movements. Exploration and dissolute patterning still play an important role in discovering the true heart of each piece. Some then, may say this isn’t heavy enough (there is no Chaos here, no Sunneith Revankar) and typically the syncopation and palm-muted rhythmic undertow has been smoothed and flattened allowing the dream pop vibe to take over. Notably, though, this is not to the detriment of the songs. This change of direction has also freed Tompkins to explore the warm, tones of that sultry vocal of his; he never raises his force of delivery above a semi-anguished cry and he most definitely does not scream or roar. Hell, he even morphs into George Michael when he takes it down to a breathy lilt, something we’ve never noticed him doing before.
The most straight-forward pieces head the cast, with the punchy ‘Allure’ (featuring Periphery guitarist Mark Holcomb) and the quite simply immense rush of ‘Evolution’ still breaking their shackles but hauling themselves back to the spine for the close. In fact, the latter track is worthy of extra special mention for its warm build, gorgeously-layered centre and hellishly catchy verses. The thing is an absolute earworm – a perfect companion piece to BWN’s award-winning ‘Maeva’.
Elsewhere, the multi-part ‘Halogen’ doesn’t shirk away from complete changes of direction with the stunning input of a female spoken and sung vocal (probably Hieroglyph‘s Valentina Reptile who appears on the cracking ‘Kaikoma’) changing the emphasis. For the biggest show of force, head straight to ‘New Devil’. This has a nagging, cantankerous edge to it, with the affected stringwork hinting at an admiration for the work of The Safety Fire. As a neighbour and yet coming from the other end of the scale, ‘Patience’ is a fragile beauty of a piece; sashaying gently; eloquent and enigmatic. Then, to close proceedings, ‘The Constant’ sports input from multi-instrumentalist Plini Roessler-Holgate and slaps on the layers to paint a rich, striking picture of life in constant motion.
When the songs themselves aren’t blowing your mind, it’s the little touches that elevate this album to a different level. From the heavenly choir that sprinkle their “hallelujahs” at the terminus of the title-track to the passage of spoken Japanese that flavours ‘Kaikoma’- they all make their mark. Some of the more self-indulgent tracks require more perseverance – growers like ‘Idle Minds’, ‘Miracle’ and ‘Guiding Lights’ only making their mark after several listens. It’s no use though. No matter how hard you search for dips in quality, there’s no getting past the simple fact that from any angle this is a potential album of the year. Skyharbor have grown-up, fine-tuned and quietly evolved – we are all just struggling to catch up.
Streaming now: http://music.basickrecords.com/album/guiding-lights