Skyward – Self Titled
Skyward are localized road warriors. Before releasing their self titled debut, this band logged nearly five hundred shows in the general area of their Virginia home base and shared stages with some of modern music’s promising new bands like Pierce the Veil. Naturally, such extensive experience in front of paying audiences tightened the band musically as a performing unit, but their debut release argues a further point. This public wood shedding turned the band into an equally formidable songwriting force – those countless live renditions helped clarify and develop their artistic vision to such an extent that the eleven songs on their debut never sound like the tentative, overreaching efforts of an inexperienced band. Instead, each of the songs plays like work from a far more seasoned group of musical artists and its ambitious sound seems to be aiming for a measure, at least, of posterity.
“Daily” serves as a brief and evocative introduction to the album. It’s quite a big screen, cinematic scene setter and brings novice listeners directly into the band’s sound without any waffling. It easily transitions into the album’s first indisputable high point, the light and shade theatricality of “Casualty”. The first half of the song is an emotional and chaotic tumble of guitars, bass, drums and synthesizers held together by Jonathan Huang’s spellbinding vocal. The band ratchets up the instrumental intensity some on the following track, “The Floor”, but the light and shade template remains firmly in place. This approach allows them a chance to flex their muscles, particularly guitarist Jordan Breeding, and he doesn’t disappoint with some deliciously fluid and meaty lead work in the second half. “Animal” takes an entirely different tone. Skyward mute the guitar muscle in favor of a streamlined, even stark, approach that contrasts wonderfully with the bombast pervading so much of this album. Huang responds with an appropriately understated, but effective, performance.
They seem intent on bowling listeners over with the unmitigated rock power behind the track “Now”. This is one instance on their self titled debut where Skyward abandons the light and shade template in favor of an all out display of power. The approach is very appropriate considering the song’s subject matter and title, but it goes beyond that. It’s yet another sign that this is a band who changes gears easily and can dispatch a number of styles with authoritative credibility. “(M)arrow)” gives second vocalist and synthesizer player Anna Breeding a chance to take center stage as singer and she doesn’t disappoint. Her exquisite, almost crystalline voice phrases the lyrics with a lot of dramatic overtones and Huang’s tasteful backing vocals add just a smidgen of extra heft to the performance. The album’s final gem comes as a bonus track. “What You’ve Become” begins as an acoustic guitar driven number with Huang’s vocals coaxing out each phrase with almost painful sensitivity. This pensive close deserved to be properly included with the album. Skyward’s debut isn’t letter perfect, as pointed out in the previous sentence, but few bands could have scarcely hoped for a better career opening.
8 out of 10 stars.