John Hickman – Remnants
The first full length release from longtime Seattle resident John Hickman, Remnants, completes a journey that began in 2011. After retiring as an aerospace engineer, Hickman sensed a chance to chase after his artistic dreams in a way that might not have seemed practical decades before. He began writing songs and releasing singles greeted by the indie music audience as a remarkable modernization of classic progressive rock elements. Hickman, however, is far from a one trick pony. The twelve tracks on Remnants don’t content themselves with guitar and synthesizer work outs. There are plenty of moments like that to please those fans, but Hickman’s interests run deep and diverse. There are straight up moments of pure rock and roll, acoustic reflections, high brow pop, and other stylistic quirks that set Hickman apart from his peers regardless of age. His voice, likewise, recalls the glory days of singers like Jon Anderson and Geddy Lee without engaging in a moment of imitation.
“Cascade” is strongly reminiscent of 80’s Asia or Kansas at their zenith. The rambunctious and loudly recorded drums, gaudy synthesizer textures, and guitar playing all work in perfect concert with one another and create a breathlessly strident track that captures your attention from the first second and never lets go. The restrained guitar flourishes, underlying acoustic guitar, and precise drumming pushing “Hello Hello” out of the blocks has a lot of energy, but never attacks the listener and brims over with smiling, head held high confidence. Remnants takes its first look at the ballad with the well-constructed “Paris Is Burning” and Hickman’s music and lyrics alike do a fantastic job of embodying all of the possibilities in the title. Hickman’s songs never deal with a narrow range of emotions and the surprising depth in even his most deceptively simple compositions reveals an amazingly versatile artist.
His acoustic side emerges full flower on “Passing Thru”, but the softer musical edges do nothing to dull his lyrical or vocal excellence. It’s quite satisfying to hear how equally well he handles a variety of sounds and doesn’t betray a second of insecurity. The beautifully ornate and slightly mournful “Remnants of the Human Race” obviously bears some relation to the album’s title and there is a sense listening to this, thanks to the emphatic nature of Hickman’s vocal and songwriting, that he considers it one of the album’s most important songs. “Soiled Dove” continues his impressive run with an integrated work of top notch pop rock that has melodic excellence to burn and a deep wisdom about its chosen subject. The same forlorn air clouding his voice on “Remnants of the Human Race” returns her and elevates its beauty.
“What They Told Me” is one of the album’s most obviously personal moments and a beautifully unaffected ballad that never overreaches to touch the listener. Such songs, typically, are chronicles of the songwriter’s indignation and unhappiness, but Hickman communicates something quite different instead. The sense of disappointment in his voice is impossible to escape. Remnants, however, contains a celebratory note with the song “While Everyone Was Sleeping”, a brightly colored reminder of his rock and roll heart. Remnants covers a lot of bases and is sure to please many.
9 out of 10 stars.