Sunday, September 3, 2017
SOUND AND VISION: "GLANCES" SKYLINE SOUNDS
ZACH GUYETTE: Guitars, Keyboards, Synthesizers
ALYSSA NIEMIEC: Vocals, Bass Guitar
MIKE NIEMIEC: Guitars, Vocals
DAVE ZAKOS: Drums
Recorded and Edited by Zach Guyette and Mike Niemiec
Mixed by Zach Guyette
Mastered by Lucky Lacquers
Art/Graphic Design by Zach Guyette and Alyssa Niemiec
All music and lyrics by Skyline Sounds
Released June 10, 2017
For me, for now and for always, I will regard the album as a complete work of art.
Certainly, the work of art in question pertains to the music, lyrics and performances and production. But I feel the artful album experience as a whole extends itself from the music to the album cover artwork, to the gatefold, to the lyric sheets, to the liner notes and so on. Every conceivable element contained within the entirety of the package all contributes to and fully enhances whatever sense of alchemy occurred when the songwriters and musicians in question created music from seemingly out of the thin air. Just think of all of the work involved to create a complete artistic statement, let alone even just one song!And because of that, I really wished that albums were thought of as passionately as they were years ago.
Of course, for some of you, these feelings just sounds as if I am forever lost within a "Memories With Grandpa" moment, something purely generational as music is not experienced in the same way as it was in my youth because the entire listening experience has changed. And frankly, sadly, the value of music itself has been wholly decreased, where it all feels to be an accessory, a product, something to just obtain and nothing to feel, to explore, to envelop yourself inside of.
Maybe I am wrong. The world has changed and some of my younger friends truly have no need for the physical representation because they never really experienced it. But at least for me, when I think of my personal relationship with music throughout my life, so many of my favorite musical memories are housed inside periods where it was only me and the album and nothing else whatsoever.
My earliest musical memory involves my obsession with Side One of Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" (released October 5, 1973), when I was around three or four years old. I remember just being mesmerized by all of the illustrations, band photos, and the colors of the lyrics as I listened to the songs and made literal images in my head. Or I think of those long summer afternoons pouring over my Beatles albums, diving into songs over and over and over again, wondering about instrumentation and swimming in their sounds. Or even the masterpiece that is Stevie Wonder's "Songs In The Key Of Life" (released September 28, 1976), that massive double album plus four song EP that also housed a lyric/liner note booklet so immense it could have been a full libretto! Those days and that enveloping intimacy with the listening experience served powerfully to shape my love of music to this day. And while I do not have the amount of ample time as I did during childhood, I still cherish any extended period I have where I am able to just listen, feel, imagine and dream.
I do know that I am not alone in these feelings. And I also know that it doesn't mean that what once was could never be again and there are indeed artists still creating the entire album experience from veterans such as Roger Waters for instance, to more recent and formidable musical figures like Father John Misty and Kendrick Lamar. But you know, I do know of a younger, hungrier band that has taken their love of the album as art seriously, richly and beautifully, so much so, that it is not only one of the finest albums I have heard this year, I's like to think that if given a real chance, they could help to usher this crucial appreciation back to the forefront
At this time, I am thrilled to turn your attention to the Madison, WI based band Skyline Sounds,a four piece collective made up of lead vocalist/bassist Alyssa Niemiec, guitarist/vocalist Mike Niemiec, guitarist/keyboardist Zach Guyette and drummer Dave Zakos.
The first thing that grabbed me about "Color" was indeed the album cover, which was even lovelier when the album arrived and I held it in my hands. As for the music itself, the listening experience was even lovelier as Skyline Sounds' calling card served up a sparkling collection of 12 expertly composed, sharply produced and exuberantly performed power pop songs that at times reminded me of Madison's now defunct Modern Mod, albeit a slightly older, more seasoned and mature version--kind of like that band's group of older brothers and sister faced with concerns that bridge the gap between the individualized, universal and existential.
With "Glances," the band's second full length release, that not only finds the quartet fully coming into their own, they have superbly raised their own bar so highly with a work that feels as if Skyline Sounds has rapturously re-introduced themselves as a better, stronger, tighter unit, eagerly ready to present their latest project to the world.
"Glances" opens with the dynamic "Dimensions," where a briefly solo Alyssa Niemiec is followed by a voluminous wash of sound in what is easily the very best opeing moments of any album that I have heard this year so far. "We'd better hope it's not a sign/if this is the new year, go back in time," Niemiec sings while backed by waves of guitars and crashing cymbals before spiraling into a harmonic whirlwind of gracefully shifting time signatures and a killer chorus where she emphatically ponders, "Is it still me?"
With lyrics of shape shifting perspectives, "Dimensions" is a song of powerful arrival, expertly setting the stage for the remainder of the album, which is indeed fraught with all manner of shifting perspectives, expectations, juxtapositions and other musical and thematic surprises. Returning to the song at hand, it feels more than fitting that this song was originally written and demoed on the New Year's Day of 2016. "Dimensions" feels like the combined and conflicting emotions when faced with a new year's prospects when there is nothing else but the miles ahead. Exciting or daunting, a time to be faced or feared, the future will happen whether we're ready or not and as "Glances" begins, Skyline Sounds stands at the precipice.
The album's momentum continues with significant punch and crunch as the propulsive and ironically titled "Stationary," fueled by the sharp attack of Dave Zakos' drums and the chugging guitars of Mike Niemiec and Zach Guyette, and the stunning "Glances Part I," starring Guyette's bouncy synth work, seemingly finds the band in a state of emotional and possibly existential crisis where one's next move is unknown if not inconceivable.
After the powerhouse of the albums' first three tracks, Skyline Sounds brings us into more nuanced and musically diverse territory. First, we reach the meditative, transitional piano instrumental "Alongside," which is then followed by the angst driven power pop of "Perspectives," a song thematically placed within interpersonal emotional confusion that also brilliantly houses a glowing sing-a-long chorus, before again taking us back to the pensive prism and swaying guitars of the instrumental interlude entitled "Standing Waves."
With a shrieking squall of feedback at the album's midpoint, Skyline Sounds roars through the speakers with the appropriately titled "In The Middle," which contains a riff so mammoth that even Billy Corgan would have wished he had thought of it first. In many ways, it feels as if "Glances" had been working itself up to this moment, one where the inherent tension in the songs builds to its boiling point where Alyssa Niemiec sings of allowing the lives of herself and to whomever she is singing to "collect with dust." Yet, instead of blasting apart in fury, the album phases itself into an extended existential dreamworld with the suite of "Lights" and "Ending And Starting," two hypnotically entrancing selections that evoke the sensation of drifting through time and space, whether outer or inner, and the effect elicits a darkly soothing calm that gracefully surrounds simultaneously epic and intimate themes of inter-connectivity .
Blending the cosmic and the concrete splendidly, Skyline Sounds takes us into the final stretches of "Glances" with several stunning tracks where the melodics burst from the speakers more vibrantly than before. Album standout "Time Staggers On," contains superbly delivered push-pull tension and release via whiplash time signature changes that fully augment an acing narrative that grows towards a lush romanticism--a romanticism that feels to fully arrive in the album's next selection.
"Don't Walk Away" is downright glorious, a musical counterpoint to everything that has arrived before. Since Alyssa Niemiec handles the lead vocals throughout the album, the tone and presentation of the songs all feel to arrive from her point of view, as if we are experiencing life, the universe and everything through her specialized, idiosyncratic lenses and through all of its shifting perspectives and emotions. With this track, Mike Niemiec lovingly takes over the lead vocals, as if we are gathering another voice in the universe, and a crucial one at that, to finally take Alyssa's hand to deliver a powerfully urgent message.
"We'll reach the end organically
So don't try to force it preemptively
The standing waves make it seem
The sound is much greater than the source of things
Don't run away
We'll make it
Don't run away
I'm just as scared as"
What does it mean to feel as if you are truly alone in the universe, for better or for worse? Is it independence or isolation or variations of both (and even more) at hand? For so much of "Glances," Skyline Sounds has crafted concepts and musings that feel to be singular yet do reflect all of the existential questions we face simply because we are human beings and because we are alive and completely conscious of our impending mortality. In many ways, "Glances" is a communal experience about feeling alone and then, we arrive with "Don't Walk Away," so beautifully delivered and perfect sequenced within the album as a whole, that the track serves as a glistening lifeline, not solely from the voices of Mike Niemiec to Alyssa Niemiec but from the band to each and every one of us who has chosen to listen.
And still, there is even more as "Don't Walk Away" does not serve as a conclusion or a neatly wrapped bow over the proceedings. "Is It In Me?," the album's third instrumental, provides more interior sonic turbulence before arriving with the warm synth washes and interlocking guitar rhythms and the power pop bashing finale of "Glances Part II," which feels to serve as a resolution or even a benediction of not necessarily lesson fully learned but a spirit now greater informed.
united in a symphony
all at once and what can be"
"Glances" fully concludes with what could be considered the album's coda or epilogue, the bouncy "Who'm I Talking To?," where both Alyssa and Mike Niemiec sing to and with each other with a palpable warmth that the experience of "Glances" is begging to be heard all over again the moment the final chords fade into the ether at album's end.
Skyline Sounds' "Glances" is a gloriously multi-layered release that feels designed to meet each individual listener as deeply as they wish to travel within the music and the presentation as a whole. It is a complete work, a full 42 minute musical universe that leaves no stones unturned yet just enough wiggle room for all listeners to devise their own interpretations and meanings to the material.
In a way, the album often feels like one long song that just happens to be divided up into a series of movements as "Glances" showcases a series of connections, echoes, contradictions and juxtapositions as lyrics and musical themes and passages playfully yet intricately call back to each other throughout its entirety, enhancing the meaning(s) each time--a quality that showcases unquestionably that within Skyline Sounds, and with only their second full length release, we are dealing with seriously talented songwriters, musicians and producers.
The sonic quality of the album is pristine as it carries a sheen glossy enough to stand confidently next to a Pink Floyd or Fleetwood Mac album, but it is also just ragged enough to suggest that Skyline Sounds is that emphatic band down the street hammering away in the garage. Alyssa Niemiec, as songwriter/bassist and lead singer, strikes a warmly serious and confidant presence as she takes us through a world of difficult existential themes and quandaries through her superb sense of invitation rather than anything combative. Mike Niemiec and Zach Guyette make for a formidable guitar pairing as their six string heroics shimmer, glimmer, chime and gleam powerfully and as a great addition, Guyette's keyboard work strikes a glistening balance between New Wave minimalism and lush orchestration, always adding precisely the right touch without dominating the rock and roll energy. Dave Zakos' terrific drums add a bustling kick to the songs, pushing and propelling with an infectious snap, inspiring you to get onto your feet or to grab a pair of drumstick, either real or imagined.
And even with all of this wonderful material to sink into, Skyline Sounds has crafted an album that I wonder was in direct defiance to the current music listening rends and short attention spans as their work does indeed represent the classic album as art experience of the very sort that is just not the norm in 2017.
The attention to the visual details in their band aesthetic has not gone unnoticed by myself, and I do wish to bring it to your attention at this time as the band has certainly spent copious amounts of time figuring out how to cultivate an additional element to their work. With "Glances," Skyline Sounds has also delivered a visual presentation within the packaging that is simply exquisite and fully in conceptual line with the musical and lyrical themes of the songs.
The cover, which you can see at the top of this posting, sports an image of a mountain, which in and of itself, could represent whatever you wish: something powerful, insurmountable, a challenge to face down, an obstacle to avoid as well as any other metaphorical leanings. The CD booklet allows you to either utilize the front or back as its primary image and then, the band has also included two color hued inserts that alter the booklet's image. So, all told, you have seven different ways to work with the cover of the album!
Inside the booklet, we delve deeper as Zach Guyette has designed a series of geometric shapes and a code key all representing states from "all dimensions," "energy," "the unknown" and others which can be utilized with the songs' lyrics to help decipher meanings and even new perspectives. All of these qualities are never presented as gimmicks but as tools to ensure that "Glances" can grow, change and develop into a work that is as immersive as any listener wishes for it to become. And not only did I appreciate the fun of this quality but the attention and devotion the full band possessed with the idea of making something for the 21st century that largely extended itself from just being an anonymous digital file to download.
For me, the experience of "Glances" just took me back to those days when, again, the listening was the event, where every element contributed to the full artistry at hand and on display. Skyline Sounds is a young band that is indeed hungry, passionate about their craft and true artists of the first degree who treat the song as the brightest shining star and work tirelessly to augmenting that brightness with their unquestionable skills and talents.
I am gently urging you to give this band's work a serious try and to even make that investment and purchase a physical copy of the album. Because really, shouldn't one of the best albums of 2017 be treated as a work of fine art?