John Hickman – Remnants
John Hickman has been releasing singles sporadically since 2011 in anticipation of this moment. The release of his first full length album Remnants surely marks a turning point in his personal journey. Hickman has spent a lifetime working on music, but his day job until the dawn of the new decade was working as an aerospace engineer in the Seattle, Washington area. His life opening up for passions like this to take full reign translates beautifully over to his songwriting. The twelve songs on Remnants are bounding with life and invention. Hickman never sounds tentative or insecure; instead, he makes brave forays into a variety of styles The prog rocker and acoustic poet co-exist side by side on Remnants and never sound out of place. His vocals are often soaring and, arguably, are Remnants’ hidden weapon for getting over with its intended audience. The production, likewise, is another crucial and perhaps overlooked factor in the success of these songs – it puts everything on the largest possible sonic stage and invites listeners to enjoy.
Listeners will certainly enjoy “Cascade”. It’s an assertive and muscular song that comes charging hard out of the gate and maintains the same forceful pulse throughout. Hickman’s singing is more than up for the challenge of matching the band’s sonic output and retains a strong grip on the song’s melodic base throughout. “Escape” indulges the album’s biggest guitar fans with a bruising six string brawl interspersed with compelling dynamics that elevate this a cut above standard rock fare. Hickman proves equally adept at tackling rough-edged material like this without surrendering any of his melodic talents in the process. “Hello Hello” shows that same forcefulness again, but Hickman backs off of the power enough to allow this pop rock confection a chance to breathe and bounce as its intended to do.
“Remnants of the Human Race” is one of the album’s more unique songs. After dealing with distinctly humdrum and mundane affairs of the human heart, Hickman allows the storyteller in him full reign and treats listeners to a science fiction influenced ballad that’s remarkably conceptualized and completely fleshed out. “Soiled Dove” is a layered work of pop magic that carries quite a substantive lyric centered on one particular character. Hickman does an extraordinary job with the writing, but it’s his vocal that does the most to create sympathy for the character. “Where Have You Gone?” is deliberately and obviously designed as the album’s showstopper number with its eight minute plus running time and it doesn’t disappoint. Hickman delivers a real blinder of a vocal that climbs higher and higher, seemingly, as the song winds towards its inevitable conclusion. Some might hear the album’s track, “While Everyone Was Sleeping”, as a rather arbitrary ending not in keeping with the emotional mood of the album’s second half, but instead, it’s much more productive to hear it as an exclamation point on the work as a whole. He’s moved us in multiple ways, but Hickman wants to take his leave with a rousing rock and roll number that breaks the melancholy spell of the preceding few tracks. A remarkable first effort.
9 out of 10 stars.