JOSHUA KETCHMARK – The Bittersweet EP

Singer-songwriter Joshua Ketchmark won a cult audience with his 2008 release ‘List of Regrets’.  Following that release, there was a relatively long gap before he returned with his second full-length ‘Karus Cruentus’.  For his third release, Ketchmark opted to try something a little different: rather than leave things too long and wait until the next full record was ready to go, he decided that his next works should be split into a series of EP releases.  In a world where physical CD sales are on the downturn and people are picking and choosing selected tracks for their portable music devices, releasing a few tracks at a time certainly seems like a good idea.

The first of these EPs, ‘The Bittersweet’ – released in the first quarter of 2012 – features four top class tunes.   The opening number ‘Covered In Roses’ is a superb piece of adult pop/rock which showcases a fair amount of Ketchmark’s talent.  The guitars ring clearly throughout, and the mid-paced riffs offer something of an atmosphere that could be best described as vaguely U2-ish.  Ketchmark’s relatively soft vocal is full of emotion while never overstretching itself and this already makes good listening.  By the time the chorus chimes in, things improve farther; it’s immediately obvious that Mr Ketchmark not only knows how to write and arrange a great tune, he also understands what makes a great radio hook.  Combined with those reverbed guitars on show throughout, the hook has track has a really classic sound, using its late 80s/early 90s influences to create something quite rousing.  ‘All These Eyes’ has a similar huge rock/pop feel at its core, though with one big difference: the U2-styled guitar parts are gone; in their place, some solid acoustic work backed by a fairly weighty sounding drum part.  The chorus beefs things up to some rather safe-sounding, radio-friendly soft rock, which although could never described as edgy is well-played and superbly produced.  Overall, another good example of the kind of rock/pop Ketchmark does so well.  [If you like either of these tracks, be sure to check out Dom Liberati’s album too].

The other two songs change the mood a great deal.  ‘The Take’ presents something more in an alternative rock vein, but retains a shiny commercial edge.  With a choppy riff, Ketchmark adopts a sound which borrows elements from Jimmy Eat World and American Hi-Fi, melding the punchy elements with another great pop chorus.  Across four minutes, his band sounds sharp as he delivers a vocal which has a slight sneer which suits the piece well.  Like most of the 2011 release by New Jersey outfit Readymade Breakup, this is hugely radio friendly and ought to appeal to a great many fans of the poppiest end of alt-rock music. ‘Cigarettes & Wine’ leaves things on a gentle, somewhat downbeat note.  Over a piano base, Ketchmark’s emotive vocal sounds great once again.  However, as good as his vocal may be, it’s not as great as the sound of his backing band: the bass is hugely warm, the steady drum beat has a huge presence and the harmony vocals add depth without being overdone or sounding showy, while a selection of keyboards flesh things out farther with string sounds.  Better still, the occasional moments of acoustic lead guitar have a great presence.  The end result here is not only testament to Ketchmark’s skill as a writer/musician, but also Denny Smith’s production which is absolutely spot on.

With such a feel-good punchiness, ‘The Take’ would be enough to warrant checking this out, but since it’s joined by three almost equally good numbers ‘The Bittersweet’ presents a great exercise in quality over quantity.  With no obvious weak elements, this is a highly recommended listen.

March 2012

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