Some bands are content to reuse the same blueprint for every record they produce. That’s all fine and dandy, but at the same time it simply doesn’t work for Skyfactor. Their new album A Thousand Sounds takes the swanky swagger of previous records like Signal Strength and puts it into overdrive, stretching out their enormous melodies and making every studded nuance of their rhythm larger than life. A Thousand Sounds opens with a title track that punches us in the gut via a beautiful but crushing harmony between singer Bob Ziegler and guitarist Jon Rubin, who find each other’s sweet spot early on and make the most of their thrilling chemistry as we descend into the rousing dirge of “Long Way to Go.”
“Long Way to Go” starts of slow, guided by a pulsating percussion that syncs up with our heartbeat right off the bat. Rubin’s guitar play is patiently waiting to explode, erupting in the bridge and smothering us with stately sonic wonderment. “Better for the Moment” modulates in tempo and recklessly translates a bitter sense of regret that contrasts with the oaky vocal by Ziegler. “The Whole World’s Here” gets us back on an upbeat track before crashing head on into the miniature epic “Lost at Sea,” which becomes one of A Thousand Sounds’ most achingly vulnerable moments.
“What We Had” is the anthological crown jewel that joins the first act of the album with the second, and its atmospheric groove matches up with the blustery lyrics amazingly. There’s a cohesiveness to this record that makes it so fluid, almost progressive even, but it never gets to the point of being conceptual in its storytelling. Ziegler wears his heart on his sleeve in “Run Away” and the poppy “Stay Dear,” and speaks to us with an earthiness that reminds me of midcentury singer/songwriters and beat poets, only there aren’t any silly metaphors or archaic analogies (which is refreshing in this age of existentialist wannabes).
The vicious “Damn the Remote” injects a shot of rock adrenaline into the track listing and primes us for the comforting “New Day” with a string arrangement that is capriciously ferocious. “New Day” is a wonderful slice of pop simplicity, but it stands in the shadows of “Hoboken Lullaby,” A Thousand Sounds’ climactic closing ballad. Tiny shards of melody scrape against the resolute grit in the vocal, which is accented with a ghostly whistle that fades into the black and white abyss of the mix but leaves behind an emotional imprint that stays with us long after it finishes.
A Thousand Sounds is packed with bursts of catharsis that will capture the attention of anyone who loves accessible acoustic rock, and I think it appeals to folk music fans as much as it does alternative listeners. Nothing about this record feels forced or disingenuous; it anthologizes the dense rhythm of Skyfactor and redistributes their trademark harmonies across eleven tracks that push the sonic envelope on every possible occasion. Its melodies inspire positivity in even the darkest of moments, and while A Thousand Sounds might not be the plastic pop fodder of mainstream Top 40 radio, it proudly asserts itself as a one of a kind listen from an awesome band that refuses to blend in with the crowd.