Start a Culture – Amskray
Start a Culture
Today, Stereo Control is featuring one of the local bands around our area (Ocean County, NJ – just so you know), the band Amskray. Consisting of Don Scherr (Vocals and Guitar), Jake Hughes (Keys, Trumpet, and Backup Vocals), Brendan Lee (Bass), and James Mcauley (Drums and other forms of percussion), the band has been around for a few years now. I remember seeing them play early on at a high school show, maybe five years ago (yes, I grew up with them and went to school with them, so no, this is probably not going to be an unbiased review, but who really cares?). Recently, they’ve gained a large following by constantly playing gigs and having a generous internet presence – as you’ll see below on the links, they’re pretty much on every website ever made.
During these past few years, Amskray have dedicated themselves to developing a unique sound. Their music consists of a blend of indie, progressive, and math rock. Personally, they remind me of the math-rock stylings of (the unfortunately defunct band) Faraquet, as well as the progressive-rock music of The Mars Volta (a band who I respect though I don’t particularly like). However, Amskray doesn’t rip-off their influences; they amalgamate these genres into their own idiosyncratic, original music.
Amskray’s new EP Start a Culture opens with “The Limit Express,” the song they’ve been pushing on the numerous websites it’s featured on. And why not push it? It’s a damn good song. Like most of their work, “The Limit Express” is a complex track with numerous guitar lines, lyrical bass lines, and many changing time signatures. Opening the EP with this song was a great decision as it immediately gains the listener’s attention. Scherr’s unique voice sails over the hard-hitting music, powering the song. The production is amazing, every instrument is heard clearly – which forces the audience to be shifted all-around as all four of the band members are great musicians. Hughes’ keyboard is possibly one of the least-cheesy sounding ones I’ve heard in a long time, and he gives the song a completely new layer, without overpowering anything. The lyrics offer astounding imagery, I personally love the line “I saw you, I saw you, I saw you pour Heaven into my glass.” The syncopated stop/start composition lets the music wash over the listener without being boring - which is very difficult for a song of this length (6:40). The song changes so many times (becoming mellow at certain parts, weaving Scherr’s powerful vocals through compression creating the effect of singing through a megaphone, even almost stopping the song for a bass solo), that they really are able to focus on each member’s strengths. One of the best aspects about Amskray is that each song is really well-thought out.
“Energy Ball” is the second track, starting the song with a drum hit and then phased chords. I don’t particularly like the phasing chords, but the rolling drums underneath are really cool. And the guitar riff comes in really grabbing one’s attention. After Don’s first verse, the band gives the song even more energy giving a straight drum beat, and guitar chords to fill out the sound. Then they slow down again (because they do have amazing arrangements, and are so talented that they can do this sort of thing), bringing in a melodic guitar solo and keyboard effects. The song almost halts to a standstill before building up and building up. Lastly they end with a syncopated rhythm which brings a great math-rock aspect into the song. It’s probably my least-favorite song on the EP, but it’s still a great, enjoyable song. Extremely well-thought out, yet again.
Track 3, the shortest track (clocking in at 4:53, the only song under five minutes) is the cleverly titled “Volcanasaurus.” The intro features a clean guitar combined with piano following a very Yes-like (or is it Yesesque? I’m partial to this latter word.) sounding riff. The beat underneath the verse creates a tense mood. The acoustic guitar played here shows that Don is a decent player at another form of guitar, not just being talented at electric guitar solos and strangely timed riffs. Plus it gives the band another sound, letting them alter their music a little. The middle section follows a repetitive guitar riff, building on it as if it were a theme. However, Lee’s bass-playing underneath shows a very melodic style, which is one of the most interesting features of Amskray. After a mellow part (sounding not unlike Pink Floyd), a creative tension is displayed with a contrasting, catchy groove which ends the song. The song features a great arrangement (I should just stop saying this, as all of the songs are written so damn well), and really allows for a softer side of the band to be displayed, without being boring.
“Temples” opens delicately. When Scherr’s singing enters, all but an interweaving guitar drops out. Musically, this song could be the most interesting. Mcauley’s drumming is phenomenal, building up sections that needed to be, while still letting other instruments lead the song. “Temples” increases it’s sound exponentially, which shows great talent. The lyrics are again characterized by good imagery (“My eyes want to see what my heart wants to feel”), and Don’s vocals show a developing singer as he is able to sing at a low-register as well as at higher octaves. Oh, and hey, about halfway through, there’s that awesome bass solo that comes out of nowhere. The song is so meticulous during the entire seven minutes, I’m extremely impressed at how accomplished Amskray is at composing.
The last track on the outstanding Start a Culture is “We’re Green Lights.” The song is slightly different from the others as it somewhat spotlights Hughes with his backup vocals and trumpet. Again, the song starts off mellow with the lyrics, “We are like fire but fire is not like us.” But this is highly contrasted as the band jumps into a heavy 70′s style pounding guitar riff and Scherr’s vocals show off an undisplayed powerful force. The song just plain out rocks. The guitar solo is melodic while still being awesome, and the bass line grooves. The song devolves into nothingness as effects take over for a little bit. This leads directly into a buildup and a very memorable ending. My favorite song on the EP, by far.
So, Amskray is, basically just awesome. All four members are excessively talented at their instruments, they have very intelligent lyrics, and the songs are painstakingly arranged without sounding too much like a jam-band. The one criticism I have, which isn’t too bad – it’s more like a challenge – is that the songs are quite long. I’m a huge fan of long songs, don’t get me wrong, but I’m just interested in what Amskray could do with a three-minute song. During the length of all of their songs, they keep the audience’s attention, so having seven minute tracks is not a bad thing at all. The band is developing constantly, and I’d love to see what direction they’re going in. I have not been able to stop listening to these five songs for the past few weeks, as they’ve pretty much blown my mind. Get ready, Amskray is in the process of booking more gigs for after New Years. I, for one, will have to go and see them live.