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Artist of the Month
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August 2015
HMPH!
"Headrush
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Simply stated, the music of HMPH! could be described with a term like math rock or experimental jazz fusion. But these terms, while accurate, don’t paint a complete picture of the sounds created by guitarist Ryan Lee Toms and drummer Jonathan Thatch. “Just when you think you got the groove, we switch it up, add a few beats, or throw in a chord from another key,” says Thatch, whose mastery over the drum kit is jaw-dropping. And while rhythmically complex, progressive compositions have become a cornerstone of the math rock genre, HMPH! additionally incorporates elements of jazz, ambient rock, alternative, and metal.
 
On Friday, the duo will be releasing its debut album Headrush (Haymaker Records), a 36-minute instrumental effort that showcases HMPH!’s dedication to push the envelope while keeping its music interesting. Nine of the 10 songs clock in under 5 minutes, keeping a fresh, brisk momentum for the entirety of the album. The listener has a chance to delve in to each song, but is pulled out before it becomes indulgent or formulaic.
 
Many of the songs start with a basic guitar riff that is bent and twisted in multiple directions, meandering from its original shape but always returning to it. From a polite jazz lick to a climactic rising arpeggio, Toms designs unpredictable, jagged noises with his guitar. “The harder it is for us to wrap our head around a riff, the more fun it is to write and the more enjoyable it is to dissect as a listener.” His combination of intriguing guitar sounds with Thatch’s intricate drum work shows that they’re very much up to the challenge. “Sometimes it starts with a complicated polyrhythmic drum part from Jonathan and I’ll create a progression to that. Other times, I’ll zone out and write arpeggios while thinking of decrepit medieval castles that kind of remind me of all the video games I played as a kid. Then I bring them to Jonathan.”
 

At the same time, Thatch is creating his own variegated sounds with just a five-piece drum kit. He often provides a countermelody to Toms’ guitar, building upon dynamic layers with odd meters, polyrhythms, subtle dynamic shifts, and rhythmic intensity. “One quality we strive for is to keep people guessing,” he says. This even includes retooling songs on the spot. “Our songs tend to keep evolving over time. We might be playing a song live and try something new, and we like the new sound so we keep playing it that way. Sometimes we don't even talk about it; we just both know how it goes now.” 

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scene blog

Album review: Gentleman Savage - Open Eyes (EP)

Album review: Gentleman Savage - Open Eyes (EP)

I always enjoy hearing new bands that fully understand their influences, but don’t crutch on them. True musicians don’t simply regurgitate what the greats of old have done—they nod their caps to their predecessors and then find a way to push the musical bar higher and higher. Gentleman Savage has figured that out. Its brand of bubbly, '60s-infused synth pop is a dynamic and powerful melting pot of old and new.
 
"Overlord": Two minutes and fifty-eight seconds of high-energy, guitar-driven pop. The song works itself up to a fever pitch in the middle through the playful interplay of a well-written, breakdown bridge. Followed by the closest thing to a "face-melting” guitar solo you can get in this style of music, the song ends by trailing off over the chorus. Definitely a solid opening track. I imagine it as straight off the soundtrack of the long overdue made-for-TV movie version of The Wonder Years.
 
"Open Eyes": This is my favorite song on the EP, as I am a sucker for the “chug” punk beat. It sounds like The Animals stumbling their way onto Oasis’s tour bus, only to quickly realize that they needn’t stay too long. Again, it features a great late song breakdown, with harmonized falsetto vocals leading the listener by his willing hand back into the final chorus. The vocals are a clear focus and strength of this band and they are used to greatest effect on this track.
 
"Death in the Springtime": The most “psychedelic” of the bunch, it’s also the hardest for me to put my finger on. The beginning immediately brings to mind the droning indie styles of Bat for Lashes or Feist. The stripped-down emotional choruses take me to nervously slow dancing in the high school gymnasium (well, at least how John Hughes would explain what dancing in a high school gym would sound like). But just when I accept my Simple Minds fate, Gentleman Savage once again picks up the intensity through a series of distorted strains. The effort bellows with a full head of dissonant steam until the falsetto harmony vocals once again emerge and offer a serene bridge of sunlight back down out of the clouds and all the way to the last satisfying chord.
 
The best part of this EP? It leaves you wanting more. It is a solid release worthy of many thorough listens. The music of Gentleman Savage comes out like Gemini Revolution, The Quivers, and Thee Water MoccaSins all wrapped up in one vintage psychedelic pop blanket (which, by the way, these four bands on a bill would be spectacular. Someone make that show happen. Do it. Do it now.).
 
Catch Gentleman Savage on November 9 at Czar with Molehill, The Future Kings, and Little Rosco (Facebook event here). And be sure to pick up a copy of Open Eyes, which is now available.

--Zach Hodson

Zach Hodson is a monster. He once stole a grilled cheese sandwich from a 4-year-old girl at her birthday party. He will only juggle if you pay him. I hear he punched Slimer right in his fat, green face. He knows the secrets to free energy, but refuses to release them until "Saved by the Bell: Fortysomethings" begins production.

He is also in Dolls on Fire and Drew Black & Dirty Electric, as well as contributing to various other Kansas City-based music, comedy, and art projects.

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