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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: Claire and the Crowded Stage - Technicolor (EP)

Album review: Claire and the Crowded Stage - Technicolor (EP)

Technicolor opens with the quirky and cleverly written “Tower of Babel,” which sets an intriguing backdrop for the EP. And two things are immediately made clear about Claire and the Crowded Stage. First, the band’s handler, Claire Adams, does not need a crowded stage to capture an audience’s attention—her voice alone will do the job. And, second, nothing about this band is superficial. Its music is a unique combination of raw emotion and refined sound. The nine-piece, coupled with Adams’s knack for songwriting and compelling vocals, radiates with talent and versatility.  

Adams’ vocals haunt the heart-wrenching “Tower of Babel” [and “Tower of Babel (minimal mix)”] as she sings: “I never lost you / You were never mine.” The strong piano, clarinet, and accordion parts make the ballad memorable and unique. The album’s title track, “Technicolor,” is perhaps the most danceable track on the EP. It carries a rolling-‘20s-esque feel—breaking out into the jitterbug certainly wouldn’t be inappropriate. “Songbird” starts slow and instrumental with an exotic sound unlike any other on the EP. About halfway through the track, however, the tempo, chords and mood change completely and the song becomes very upbeat. It’s another example of the group’s ambidextrous abilities.

Claire and the Crowded Stage is full of enduring talent that will only get better with time. This isn’t just a group of musician friends who are aimlessly plucking away on guitars or noodling around on a piano. Their sound is purposeful and polished. They weren’t thrown together by accident; this crowd was brought about to give local music a good name.
 
Technicolor, the group’s second EP, was released January 5. Claire and her crowded stage comprises: Claire Adams (vocals, ukulele and guitar), Katelyn Boone (bass and keys), Pete Lawless (accordion and saxaphone), Meredith McGrade (electric guitar), Katy Guillen (electric guitar), Stephanie Williams (drums), Jerod Rivers (drums), Brent Jamison (keys) and Teri Quinn (clarinet and guitar). As is par for the course of being a musician in Kansas City, several of these band members can be found hopscotching from lineup to lineup and venue to venue across the city. 
 
You'll be able to listen to Claire and the Crowded Stage on 90.1 KKFI next Wednesday, March 27 at 11:15 a.m. Members will be performing live on Mark Manning's weekly show, Wednesday MidDay Medley. The group will next be crowding the Coda stage on Friday, March 29 with Rev Gusto. Facebook event page here.
 
Here's a video from the title track, "Technicolor":
 
 
 
--Alex Peak
 

Alex Peak is a magazine designer by day and a music listener by night. To her, stumbling across great new music is even better than finding a $10 bill floating around in the laundry.

 

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