In their energetic debut, Skyward combines raw modern rock sensibilities with refined delivery and production values, resulting in a tight, focused album that channels organized bombast and consistent energy.
Ostensibly, Skyward LP is an electro-rock album—an impression conveyed by the wide open, electronic and reverb-drenched opening track—but the energy level ratchets up and the distorted guitar takes the lead to plant the record more firmly in modern rock territory. So, while that first song “Daily” serves as a lead-in for the album and feels almost in the direction of The XX—down to the shared male/female vocal parts (a mainstay throughout)—the thick ropes of synth that pull the track into the next are replaced by deep, parallel guitar chords and pulsing drums.
The wide open space initially established is filled in by a tight, yet expansive, wall of sound: chugging guitar lines, quick little rifts dispersed throughout, drums equal parts crashing snare and thumping toms and, at the very forefront, belting dual vocals.
The use of two lead singers keeps the vocals leading the music, but the different roles they play—and different ways those roles are used—helps create distinction within songs that otherwise follow a fairly standardized format. Like a lot of modern rock fare, most songs follow a pretty standard intro-verse-chorus-bridge/solo-outro format.
There's nothing wrong with that, as the various riffs and slotted into that format define the songs, but bringing two other moving pieces, in the form of the varied vocals, allows for more combinations than you normally see. The vocals vary from simple (and ultimately effective) harmonies, to call-and-response, to echoing lines, to a narrative dialogue between the male and female vocals. And, while each vocalist performs adeptly at a quieter level, most songs involve natural build-ups that seemingly finds the two slingshotting off one another to the end of large, theatric deliveries.
While the majority of the album exists at this heightened energy level, a couple of tracks strip things back a bit, exposing more nuance and allowing for the refined production values to shine through. The track “Animal” stands out as a highlight. Leading in with a simple riff against electronic drums and vocals, the song adds a couple of parts at times, allowing the listener to notice and appreciate each element as the song builds upon itself. The female vocals wonderfully accent the chorus, endings of some lines and provide response in time with percussion emphasis. The song also seems to play the most with little effects—from vocal distortion to wiry keyboard riffing.
For a large, distortion-laden band, the production is uncannily clean. While this is doubtlessly attributable to the deft recording and production hands at Radiant Studios and The Basement near Nashville, it also sure has quite a bit to do with the bands' innate tightness. Skyward has been gigging hard for the last couple of years, tallying over 400 shows in that timespan. These guys know their levels, they know each other's parts and when to crank up or ease back.
Ultimately, the Skyward LP acutely captures the loud, live energy of a road-tested modern rock band giving it all they've got.
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