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HIJK
The Pen And The Letter
(self-released)
www.hijkmusic.com


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.

-Josh Page


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