In the summer of 2013, Skeletons In The Piano released their second full length album, ‘Please Don’t Die‘, a collection of very retro rock tunes that culled great influences from The Doors, Screaming Trees and a world of darkest psychedelia. Following some great press and live shows, the band split. So much goodness to be heard, but all good things must come to an end. Two years on, vocalist Elijah Hargrave resurrected the bands bones with a new line-up. Meanwhile, ex members Jeff Ayers (violin, keys) and Dustin Alexander (bass) decided the time was right for a musical sidestep and Angels On The Fourth was born.
Using various classic and alternative rock bases for influence, the Angels debut EP has a retro heart at times, but none of the disturbing qualities of the former band. Based on the five songs chosen as an early indicator of the band’s talents, there’s more than enough to win over fans of guitar driven sounds from the 90s and lovers of jam band vibes. In fact, the latter influences hang over the release’s strongest songs like a tattered Woodstock shroud, with Angels On The Fourth sounding like an electrified, amplified relative of Dave Matthews Band.
Coming across like a hybrid of 90s neo-psych grungers I Love You, Dave Matthews Band and Blues Traveler, ‘Breaking Skin’ introduces the band in a well-rounded way, as Ayres’ soaring violin sounds provide constant interest dancing above overdriven funky riffs. When rocking out, Angels show strength, but it’s when pulling back, they really impress. Between the rocky chorus, the song’s verse moves along swiftly, utilising Brad Thibodeau’s guitar work in an understated choppy style while Kane Grogan’s voice adopts its finest Dave Matthews-esque wobble. At the point the track appears to reach a natural end, an entirely different tune emerges; this time, more sedate, with a mix of acoustic sounds and violin. Grogan intones that “all beautiful things come from shit!” repeatedly…and his harsh view really jars when placed against the more thoughtful music – but maybe, just maybe, that’s the point. Life is full of juxtapositions; there is disappointment to be found in unexpected places, just as there can be treasure within trash. If these sentiments seem too harsh, he makes up for them with the more tongue in cheek observation “you call this rock bottom – I call it Tuesday”. Overall, it’s a strong opener that shows almost the full range of the band’s abilities, but there’s a few harder grooves to come within the next twenty minutes…and they’re pretty much all worth hearing.
Tapping into something far more upbeat, ‘Jaded’ opens with a barrage of jangling guitars, somewhere between full-throttle alt-rock and US punk-pop, backed by a cascade of crashing guitars. Although much louder, there are traces of ‘Made To Be Broken’ era Soul Asylum here and there and the whole track presents itself as an utterly invigorating listen. Digging beneath the more obtrusive sounds, bassist Dustin Alexander exerts himself, dropping in fearsome bottom end, his bass both heavy and complex and, besides a surprisingly catchy hook, it’s his various flourishes that truly make this track. Dropping into some no-frills, retro 90’s rock, ‘Everything’ shifts the focus towards grubby guitars and a quasi-funky sound. Here, Thibodeau sounds like he’s having a great time cranking the riffs, and across the first half of the track, the pointed and sharp edges rarely let up. During the instrumental parts and musical bridges, the hard-edged rock sound gives a sense of what the band might sound like live, while the verses push the crying edge of Grogan’s voice. It sounds great when interspersed by the violin in a call and response style. What could just be meat and potatoes alt-rock is really given a lift by Ayers and his strings, even if a few of the backing vocals are somewhat wayward. These are probably the kind of sounds the hopelessly untalented NFU think they make… Knowing the pace won’t sustain a full six minutes, the second half of the track opts for something slower – and at first lighter – building atmosphere within a solid rhythm, until the vocal anger breaks. By the end, you might feel a little spent, but the well-rounded sound created here has a real presence.
A touch of tongue-in-cheek cynicism informs ‘The End of The World (Again)’ in a heavy sentiment, even though musically it’s a touch lighter than some of the previous material. Those who enjoyed the Dave Matthews inspired elements of the opener will love this, especially in the way the vocals waver and the strings add that jam band touch. Right from the intro, Ayers has a strong presence, his violins accompanying a very measured guitar part, while drummer Marc Montano lays down a stately groove. Pretty quickly, the vocal swamps so many of the layers, almost spitting some lines in a spasmodic manner, but even then, the sharpest edges of the lead are tempered by a soft backing vocal supplied by MaryLeigh Roohan. Roohan’s presence is subtle but crucial in terms of melody – you might even find yourselves thinking it would have been nice to hear more of her. Instrumentally, this number never weakens and as it reaches its peak via a melodic guitar solo, it’s clear that it’s the EP’s best track. Despite beginning with an almost grunge inspired guitar riff, closing track ‘Sunsets’ exerts more of the strong jam band vibes with a funky bass running through the centre of everything, while an occasional off-kilter beat gives the arrangement a pleasingly buoyant feel. As with the other rockers, Grogan’s voice comes with a fair amount of belt, but also as before, there are complexities beneath the bluster that present themselves on subsequent listens. With an even split between boisterous hard rock (of which another scorching solo is the apogee) and busy, almost folk-rock (thanks again to that violin), it leaves everything on a high.
These songs evoke images of tents in festival fields rather than beer-soaked basement venues, with Angels Of The Fourth very much the curators of a sound that could go so much further than it does within the confines of the EP format. There are occasional ghosts of old Skeletons in the band’s closet – largely due to some bleak end of days rhetoric and Ayers’s strong presence – but mostly they’re their own thing. …And this is just the beginning. Take yourselves on a swirling alternative rock ride, soak up the sounds…hit the repeat button and open your ears wide on each successive musical trip, for within these musicians comes a great promise.