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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: Akkilles - Something You'd Say

Album review: Akkilles - Something You'd Say

 
(Photo by Mollie Hull, Seen Imagery)
 
As one who has been a self-professed music junkie for pretty much my entire life, I’m constantly in awe of those who go onstage, no matter how large the stage or the venue or the crowd, and make music. As one who doesn’t possess a lot of musical talent, the chances of me experiencing that feeling are pretty slim, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about the art in its various forms. When a solo artist writes music, and when it’s the kind of music that requires more than just the one musician to be performed live, does he/she worry about finding the right people to bring that music to life, or are the songs written because they simply have to be written, and there’s an intrinsic faith that they will eventually be heard as the author hears them? In the case of David Bennett, the man behind the loosely-knit group Akkilles, it seems to be mostly the latter.
 
When asked about the process involved in creating Akkilles’ first full-length album, Something You’d Say, Bennett speaks of having a clear vision to go with his musical voice, and he also was able to assemble a supporting cast of accomplished musicians that he respected and was fully comfortable with, even though they had never actually played together before. Additionally, the making of Something You’d Say involved having all five players in a recording studio (Nick Pick, Rachel Pollock, Jeff Larison, Isaac Anderson, and Mike Crawford, who also engineered the recording), as opposed to his first effort, Demo Treasures—recorded at Bennett’s home, and on which he was the sole musician and vocalist.
 
A bit about Demo Treasures: released in April of 2013, this five-track EP serves as a natural lead-in to the full-length recording. It contains a very Freelance Whales vibe at times, but there are instances when Bennett takes more risks with the music—as if he’s experimenting with his own potential, trying to test the boundaries of his work, perhaps seeing the bigger picture of the future ten-track album. It would be a wise investment to listen to this as a primer; it would also be a low-cost investment, as Akkilles is only asking for a couple bucks for the download on their Bandcamp page. (psst … there’s no rule against paying a little more, either. Any band worth supporting—not just Akkilles, but any and every band—is a band worth kicking in a buck a song for an EP purchase. Just sayin’.)
 
Listening to “Your Only One,” the opening track of Something You’d Say,put me in mind of being in a kicked-back state at the end of the work week, sitting on the beach, cold beverage in hand (make mine a cider, please), and watching the sun go down over the ocean. “She’s My Girl” offers nine-plus minutes of more gently trippy sounds, and the deeper you explore the album, the deeper your state of relaxation will be. Getting into the swirling psychedelia of the third track, “Country Boy Deluxe,” I started hearing a few more subtle resemblances and possible influences: a touch of yacht rock, maybe a little Minden, and (for me, anyway) the pensive reflection of Beck’s Sea Change album. Bennett masterfully tells his stories at their own pace, without the need of studio-born tricks or gimmicks to keep the listener’s attention. It’s also very clear that his band of musical hired guns is in complete lockstep with him, and the result is a seamlessly pure and effortless 51-minute mental massage.
 
Akkilles is not without its sneaky side, though: “Chic City” presents the listener with a relatively alt-country song as compared to the rest of Something. If the Flaming Lips had decided to bring Wilco into the recording studio … and, perhaps, maybe, oh, I don’t know, enjoyed a puff or two of some agricultural mood-enhancing materials, just speculating here … this might have been the result. It’s the closest to a “road song” that the album comes to—but it’s still a relaxed road even so.
 
Something You’d Say is more than the sum of its parts, as any worthwhile collaboration aspires to be. For those of us who look forward to summer every year only for the purpose of finding that special “summer song” or “summer album,” you can’t go wrong with making this your choice for 2013.
 
Of the roster of musicians that make up Akkilles, Bennett says this: “My current band is more of a collective than anything else. Everyone would be making music with or without me, but we all knew each other and they really wanted to be a part of what I was doing, and I love getting to work with such talented people. It's a pretty dynamic group.” If you have the opportunity to see this group as they support the new album, be ready to have your mind bathed in the serenity of gentle ambience and warm, finely-tuned summer pop.
 
At least, that’s something I’d say.
 


 
Join Akkilles with special guests Roo & The Howl (Colorado) and La Guerre at recordBar on Thursday, August 29. It’s an 18+ show, $7 cover. Facebook event page. 
--Michael Byars
 

Michael Byars has an infatuation with cider, which we all think comes from his internal Britishness, but he works cheap and spells most of his words correctly, so we let him hang around. And Michelle still likes to punch him every once in a while. Executive privilege and all that, jolly good, pip pip, cheerio.

 

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