California trio HIJK might seem like just another cliche-ridden
pop-rock act looking to break into the mainstream. And what with
their semi-amusing name and the slightly-introspective title of
their new album The Pen And The Letter, such an assumption
could seem like a safe bet. But this preconceived notion is one
of the reasons why their 12-song debut turns out to be such a
treat. They pretty much shatter the confines of modern day rock.
They stir the bland pot of mundane and vapid alternative music.
They just do something different, and that alone deserves some
great acclamation. And the fact that they do it well? That's just
the icing on the cake.
Their debut has been in the works for roughly a year and a half,
and like any long-cared for album, the time has definitely paid
off. So much attention is paid to each track to provide both a
sense of familiarity and a twist of unique flair to keep blood
pumping through The Pen And The Letter. While most of the
tracks will seem inherently simple, fine touches like multi-layered
vocals, unconventional song-structures and the use of a melodica
(on "Hey Sleepy Smile") intrinsically revive them from
any risk of becoming bland.
Opener "Alibi" is what will lure you into HIJK's web
of "off-the-beaten-trail" rock n' roll. Similar to Jimmy
Eat World early in their career, the trio is able to add layer
upon layer of guitars while still remaining melodically sound
and pleasing. They create a beauty that has a bite to it. Vocals
ask the listener to "Come on in," and after such a tasty
teasing morsel, it is close to impossible to resist. And although
this first track may be the bait to HIJK, it isn't until "Smells
Like Cigarettes" that the listener will be hooked and dragged
up out of the slumming depths of modern-rock and break the surface
of something much brighter. A song catering to the audiences of
bands like Brand New and even Sunny Day Real Estate,
HIJK doesn't just pay attention to the stone-cold structure of
their songs, they are aware of the atmosphere being created, calling
to mind "emo" before it became radio's deluded pop darling.
The semi-threatening yet undeniably appealing demeanor of this
song also boasts a ska-horn section that reverberates the Etch-A-Sketch
in your mind of what a rock song should be, leaving a clean slate.
But one of the most engaging tracks on this collection is "Groove
Jet", which interestingly enough, is an instrumental. While
many bands nowadays are conditioned to think that all songs need
to have lyrics that not only enrich the song, but more or less
are the key factor of the song, HIJK puts up the middle finger
and focuses on making the music itself the standout. In an admirable
step, both on this specified track and on the album as a whole,
they highlight the importance and the individual value that each
instrument truly has. Not just a lead-guitarist basking in the
glory of the spotlight, keyboards, percussion, vocals, trombone
and the bass all take turns on stage (check out the bass line
on "The Dresser Speaks", it could very well revive the
bass guitar in modern rock). HIJK aren't just makers of music,
they are lovers of it and are fully aware of the versatility that
it can have if just a little special attention is paid to it.
So the only real question now is for whoever is reading this:
Why aren't you buying The Pen And The Letter yet? Not to
seem overly complimentary, but this record is really something
that must be experienced. More genuine and just much better than
most of what is garnering high record sales nowadays, HIJK are
a hidden gem just waiting to be found and it's just a matter of
time before they (hopefully) gain the respect they deserve.
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