Skyward – Skyward self titled
The jaded can be forgiven their smirks. It isn’t hard to be a little skeptical when reading press materials about a band who has stumbled upon a hitherto unknown way to combine chest beating guitar rock with significant synth and pop influence. Young collectives of musicians and artists are always looking to distinguish themselves from what has came before them in a grasp for some sort of new identity not tethered to tired formulas of the past. There is usually little need for such posturing. If a collection of like-minded musicians can take up the mantle of existing forms and imbue them with some sense of the individual, rather than just regurgitating weary poses borrowed from brighter talents, all the press in the world doesn’t matter. They stand out on their own merits. Skyward stands out.
Rarely do debut albums arrive with such concussive force. The theatrics of its two-headed opening monster, the brief “Daily” and its musical partner “Casualty”, are cinematically stated with dense synthesizer textures provided by band member and second vocalist Anna Breeding acting as primary musical counterpoint to Jordan Breeding’s wide ranging guitar sound. The album’s third song “The Floor” illustrates the final point well. Breeding’s crashing riffs don’t always follow convention and often times have a glassy, brittle sound, but his lead work sports surprising melodicism and a clear attention to details. His ability to recede into shadow and play as a part of the band, a seldom seen trait in lead guitarists of his caliber, helps make “Animal” one of the collection’s most memorable moments. His impeccable hand plays an enormous role in building the track’s restlessly pulsing tempo, but the rhythm section of drummer Caleb Gritsko and bassist Jeremy Hashiguchi deserve high praise for the locked in groove they create.
The same glossy inflated cross-breeding of alternative rock and keyboards continues on the song “Stand-Ins” and the added rhythmic power of the main riff pushes this into anthemic territory. Huang’s voice has impressive elasticity that allows his to cover extensive swaths of emotive and musical ground within a modest length of time. “Now” finds the band kicking their rock guitar gear into overdrive and unleashing a torrential attack bursting with youthful energy and indomitable resolve. An important component possibly overlooked by other reviewers might be the general mood of this album. With a couple of key exceptions, the musical mood of Skyward’s debut is exuberant, even exultant. The material doesn’t dwell in a rose-colored world, but it stresses the survival of the human spirit even in the direst of circumstances.
“Giving Tree” helps stress that essential spirit guided the album. Undoubtedly inspired by the Shel Silverstein children’s classic of the same title, the lyric brilliantly adopts the book’s narrative for its own personalized purposes. Huang’s vocal is stunningly sensitive and attuned to the song’s demands. Steering the listener carefully through such a nuanced musical and lyrical work isn’t an easy task and he is more than up for the challenge. It’s the final peak on an album miraculously full of such heights. Skyward emerge on the national scene with a fully formed artistic vision that will only expand from here. It is thrilling to come in on the ground floor following a band that will, literally, try anything if it helps strengthen the song.
9 out of 10 stars.