It isn’t difficult to smirk a little when young bands talk about breaking new ground, fusing new genres. It is relatively true to say there is nothing new under the sun. By this late date, popular music is more reliant on formula than ever and, in the end, the only remaining way to win the day creatively is through possessing a mastery of your craft and presenting your talents with taste, energy, and a keen ear capable of elevating the formulaic in your material. There are a few choice outfits and solo performers however, both young and old alike, who bring styles into collision while still exerting tremendous technique. The results are often rather memorable. For the young band Skyward, their creative mission to marry the messy guitar theatrics of alternative rock with the stricter constraints and melodic emphasis in electronic pop produces individualistic magic. While the band may not be on the verge of packing stadiums world wide, no one sounds quite like them.
The interlinked duo of songs beginning their self-titled debut serves notice of that. “Daily” and “Casualty” throbs with keyboard generated color, briefly swelling collages of sound, and spiked with roughshod guitar cutting over the top. The band’s singing tandem of Jonathan Huang and Anna Breeding are a fantastic combination and their voices weave tightly around each other without one ever overwhelming the other. The opening duo also works mightily as an opening salvo to kick things off and the song’s pronounced cinematic element strengthens that theory. Skyward cracks their knuckles on “The Floor” and hits listeners with the album’s first unadultered blast of guitar muscle, but they wisely temper the power with some lighter passages that allows their melodic gifts to shine through. “Stand-Ins” has a number of interesting tempos and moves easily between its disparate sections without ever over-indulging itself or overstaying its welcome. Huang largely dominates the vocals and once again shows his talent for smoothly alternating between softer and much grander passages. The guitar isn’t as much of a factor here as elsewhere, so vocalist Anna Breeding gets a chance to show off her considerable prowess as a synthesizer player.
“Burn” is one of the album’s darker numbers in every respect and the mid-tempo grind of guitars and percussion builds remarkable tension in a short time. It gives Huang a golden opportunity to explore the lower half of his register and he capitalizes to memorable effect. “Crows and Wolves” has a similarly ominous tone, but it’s lightened some in comparison to the earlier songs thanks to its added emphasis on melody that the former lacks. Breeding takes her biggest vocal turn of the album on “(M)arrow)”, but Huang comes in at important moments throughout to lend his talents in harmony. The song’s musical ethereal qualities are highly appropriate for Breeding’s angelic voice.
Skyward’s self-titled debut is a varied marvel that connects with listeners on every song. Rather than producing eleven by numbers approximations of pop-influenced alternative music, Skyward has taken time to create just under a dozen distinctive compositions distinguished by their inventive arrangements and superior singing.