29 March 2011

Skywatchers: "The Skywatchers Handbook"

My thanks to Jarrod Gosling for keeping me in the loop.

Have you ever been a starwatcher, gazing at the stars in the night sky for hours on in? As you see the stars shining and flickering down, you are hardly conscious of the time and space traveled by the light for you to contemplate on. And this is the appropriate metaphor for me to start on “The Skywatchers Handbook” (13 September 2010 in the UK, 13 September 2010 in the USA in digital format, 21 September 2010 as physical import). Just as it is impossible to watch the totality of those starry skies, this debut by the Skywatchers was not originally in my radar. My introduction to the world of Skywatchers came this past February, when Jarrod Gosling reached out to me about their latest single, “Serves Me Right” (link). A few weeks later, I came home to a parcel, with the CD in it; I unwrapped, flipped through the liner notes, and listened to the album, unaware of all the time and space traveled before I was having this experience.

The new project of I Monster’s Dean Honer and Jarrod Gosling, with vocalist Kevin Pearce, “The Skywatchers Handbook” is a seductive collection of electronic and electroacoustic tracks. One of the hardest things for musicians that rely heavily on an electronic mean to produce music is producing vocals that are warm, full of conviction, and engaging. Not every vocalist can do this against electronic music, but Pearce’s voice not only melds well with the musical arrangements, its distinctiveness and mutability from style-to-style continuously allows the music to unravel in the most unexpected ways. Musically, the band’s references are everywhere, from current indie trends to synthpop, from trip hop to lounge. From the simplest arrangements for a big ambient feeling to complicated interplay of sounds and textures for a spacey feel, track-to-track the music is constantly weaving distinct soundscapes. For instance, the album opens with “Dead Flowers For Her.” With a simple guitar arrangement and a synthpop influenced ostinato, you are introduced to a seemingly tranquil world, which is subverted into musical anxiety. No, the underpinnings of the arrangements are not distinct, just the beat and part of the accompaniment. But it is the ingenious reconfiguration from track-to-track, and often within a track, that is the genius of this album.

I love the ambience of “Soul Baptist.” The key arrangements reminds me of the arrangements you may hear on an aboriginal didgeridoo (occasionally the sound is also reminiscent). Albeit, it is a spacey, trippy take on these kinds of arrangements, but what gets me is how contained the song is; you may be waiting for the song to explode into something else, just as the previous (opening) track did, but it never does. And it is in that “containment” that the song gains visceral power. Later on, the single “Serves Me Right” surfaces; the most urgent sounding song in terms of current indie rock trends, what makes it different is just how sophisticated this song is. From the subtle changes in the percussions to the multilayered keys, it is the most obvious track to point to just how much attention to details the band places on their production.

Hands down, my favorite track is “Ever Felt the Sky?” The best ostinato I have heard outside of the 80s! Alone it conveys a ponderous feeling, but not the anxiousness that comes with it. But it is the layers of the ostinati and the fact that the chorus is ingeniously phrased as a question draws the listener right in. And just like “Soul Baptist,” the song is contained from exploding into something else, which adds to the deep-seated desire to ponder away. Soon, the album twinkles to an end with “Keep Watching The Sky.” Definitely the trippiest and most psychadelic song the album, it breaks into a tribal-esque beat, as if watching the sky is part of a ritual. Two thumbs up for including the unexpected: the saxophone solo (played by Michael Ronald Somerset Ward).

I, personally, regret not discovering this album last year; but just as that light from stars travels time and space for us to experience, this long traveled album, “The Skywatchers Handbook,” is a brilliant experience. Now it is time for me to arrange a (loud) listening to this album while actually stargazing.

Track Listing:
1. Dead Flowers
2. Soul Baptist
3. The Curious Village
4. Rhythm Of Ashes
5. Serves Me Right
6. The Lunar Time
7. Do You Want To Go To Space Young Man?
8. Ever Felt The Sky?
9. Small Lights
10. Keep Watching The Sky

Keep up with Skywatchers at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is their video for “Serves Me Right” from their YouTube Channel: skywatchermusic.

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