Shayne Cook’s nine song studio album debut Epiphonetics raises the curtain on his professional musical career in auspicious fashion. Hailing from Down Under, the Australian native boasts a variety of influences apparent with a single listen. Cook’s writing begins on a high note with first track “The Stawell Gift” and the atmospheric musical arrangement draws you into this track written about his father. It is no small feat for a songwriter to strike universal notes with listeners even during their most vulnerable moments and this is the first of a handful of such achievements for Cook. The entrancing qualities of the song’s central piano riff make the track more memorable.
There’s a hush pervading the track “Shouldn’t War” that Cook later shatters to spectacular effect, but the careful almost crystalline construction of this track makes it one of the finest examples of craftsmanship you’ll encounter on this release. A wide range of emotions runs through this track though the bulk of Cook’s performance leans more towards the acoustic character defining many songs on this release. The melodic guitar at the heart of “Blood” and how it gently escalates, plus the hint of storminess churning around the edges of the track, are its chief musical merits. There is a consistently high level of musicianship running throughout the entirety of the album and this track is no exception. It is notable how well Cook and his fellow musicians handle the song’s gradual transition into a far more conflicted and intense musical landscape.
“Matters of the Heart” is a single from the album and a single listen illustrates why. It likewise demonstrates Cook’s penchant for writing above average love songs infused with adult perspectives rather than riddled with clichés. The title itself smacks a little of cliché, but paying close attention to Cook’s writing proves he traffics in anything but. It has a gentle swing and soulful vocals. “Restless Lovers” has a languid pace despite its electric instrumentation and Cook once again finds his mark as a singer; he invests the lyrics with well-phrased passion that never overreaches for effect.
He embraces a risky arrangement with the penultimate cut “Back to Love” but this stylistic shift will work for many. The percussion is particularly involving and sets a rhythm for the track far different than its counterparts included on this release. Some may peg this as the album’s most commercial mom than the aforementioned single, but that doesn’t mean it lacks substance. The finale “Ritual” is an appropriately dramatic conclusion for this collection. It aspires and reaches the same poetic results characterizing so many passages throughout Epiphonetics and reveals to listeners the breadth of Cook’s musical imagination for a final time. Shayne Cook is off to a fast start with his first release and there are naturally questions about whether he will be able to sustain and/or expand on such promise with material to come, but nothing you’ll hear on this release suggests he’s an one album wonder. The nine songs released on Epiphonetics hints at even higher peaks to come.