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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

Show review: Sonic Spectrum Ramones Tribute, 10.28.12

Show review: Sonic Spectrum Ramones Tribute, 10.28.12

Four bands came together to pay tribute to legendary punk band, the Ramones, as a part of Sonic Spectrum’s tribute series at recordBar. For all intents and purposes, the Ramones saved rock n' roll. When they released their self-titled debut in 1976, the radio was jammed pack with long-winded keyboard solos, disco beats, and mini-operas. The Ramones went back to the original blueprint, designed by the early rock n' rollers and doo-wop groups of the ‘50s. Only the Ramones' songs were faster, louder, tougher, and weirder; punk was born. Their sound continues to influence countless bands to this day, four of which showed up that night.

If there was a secondary theme to the night, it was that covering these three-chord simplistic songs looks much easier than it actually is to pull off. Nearly each band recognized that on stage. The first band, UFT!, kicked off the show right with the shouts of "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" in "Blitzkrieg Bop,” quite possibly the most recognizable tune in the Ramones catalog. Bassist Steve Tulipana shared a funny story about meeting the artist behind the iconic Ramones logo, and his surprise on how getting prepared for the show had been. They played other Ramones classics such as "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "Rock N' Roll High School.”

Next, Rockets to Russia took the stage (members of Bleachbloodz, The Uncouth!, Hobo Zero, Appropriate Grammar, The Bad Ideas). Consisting of the largest group of the night, the five-member band tore through songs about as fast as the Ramones would perform them live. Songs like "Glad to See You Go" and "Cretin Hop" were accompanied by boundless energy that seemed to run back and forth on both sides of the stage. Two songs in, vocalist Mitch Clark convincingly told the crowd he'd have to slow down for a song or two or else he was bound to have a heart attack on stage. Still, the band continued through their set this way.

Gene Kreamerz and the Pussycats (members of The Quivers, The Latenight Callers, Drew Black & Dirty Electric, Deco Auto) played their songs closer to how the Ramones sounded on the albums. It's not at the breakneck speed of their live performances, but still animated enough for a crowd to bounce around to. Highlights included "(Do You Remember) Rock N' Roll Radio?" and a personal favorite, "Danny Says,” the true ballad of the night (surprisingly, the Ramones were great at writing those, too).

True evidence of the Ramones influence in even today's world came when Radkey finished the night off. The band consists of three brothers, all of whom were born well after the Ramones had their heyday. The spirit, energy, and rock n' roll the Ramones championed during their career came through the band. Highlights included the seasonally appropriate "Pet Cemetery" and campy "Somebody Put Something in My Drink.” The band ended their set with the anti-political song "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg", a song most fans would consider to be a favorite. The night was a great tribute to the Ramones, and in turn, a great tribute to rock n' roll.

All photos by Todd Zimmer. Please do not use without permission.

--Travis Stull  

Travis is a technical writer who loves rock n' roll. Give him a hug sometime.

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