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Artist of the Month
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August 2015
HMPH!
"Headrush
"
mp3
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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Album review: The Blackbird Revue - Glow (EP)

Album review: The Blackbird Revue - Glow (EP)

2013 is shaping up to be another very fine vintage for local music, with several quality releases already available and a slew of eagerly-anticipated albums coming soon to fine retailers and Bandcamp pages near you. Add to this list Glow, the third EP (and first since 2010) from The Blackbird Revue. Husband-and-wife team Jacob and Danielle Prestidge have established themselves as purveyors of an ear-pleasing sound that combines Americana, folk, country, and indie pop in various layers, and their vocal harmonies continue to astonish and devastate. Glow shows the twosome, with the help of several skilled musicians, bringing these skills to the listener in fine form.

 
The lead track, “When You Are Mine,” shows The Blackbird Revue at the height of its harmonic powers. Those of you who have taken singing lessons or been involved in choral music for any number of years will understand this: both Jacob and Danielle show great ability at singing over the notes. Coming at the music from above gives the vocals an airy, lilting quality during the softer moments at the beginning of this song (and throughout the EP), but the second half sees the tempo change from a gentle breeze to a howling gale, lifting the listener up and carrying said listener on a Thelma and Louise-esque ride straight over the cliff …
 
… where the title track awaits to catch you and cradle you in its gentle comfort. Glow paints a lyrical landscape with such verses as “fade / our sunsoaked yesterdays / to sepias and grays,” with the intertwined voices alternating in the roles of both palette and canvas. “Winter Rest” is the most pop-sensible track of the four, with undeniable hooks that make toe-tapping a near certainty. The EP concludes with “Lone Swan,” a winsome ballad that offers an encouraging word and a shoulder to lean on for someone whose burden has grown heavy (“this world is cruel this world is kind / and sometimes love is hard to find / so if you need to clear your mind / take the keys and take your time”).
 
When you listen to Glow, you hear music that pleases with its honesty and directness, but the notes that spring from your speakers don’t tell the entire story. Listening to Danielle and Jacob work together, harmonize together, and just be together, you realize that they have … something … indefinable, yet unmistakable. This isn’t just a musical duo, and this isn’t just a married couple. This is a union of two spirits and souls that complement each other perfectly as no other could. The underlying intensity and obvious passion shine brightly throughout this 14-minute love letter from the Blackbird Revue.
 
I hope someday we all get to experience that same glow.
 
The group’s next performance will be next Friday, March 8 at River’s Bend Restaurant and Bar in Parkville with Jason Craig and The Wingmen at 8:00 pm (Facebook event here). The Blackbird Revue will also be a part of the HomeGuard Festival VIP party on Saturday, March 16 at The Midwestern Musical Co. at 7:00 pm.
 
 
 
--Michael Byars
 

Michael Byars may or may not be pickling things at this moment. It’s possible that he’s already had four or five bottles of Mountain Dew by now. There’s a chance that he is at a hookah bar somewhere. You may say he’s a dreamer. But most of all, he spells pretty well and he works for free, so we let him write stuff for us sometimes. 

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