CD REVIEW: Sky and Signal - The Blood Moon (EP)
by: Cyrus Rhodes
Artist: Sky and Signal
CD: The Blood Moon (EP)
Label: Independent Artist
Genre: New Age Pop, Ambient Vocal Pop, Alternative Rock
Sounds Like: The Cranberries, Cocteau Twins. Loreena McKennitt, Enya, Sarah McLaughlin, Celine Dion
Technical Grade: 6/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 7/10
Weakness: Winded Songs, More solo segments, Rhythm Section needs an upgrade, EP Release
Sky and Signal are an electro-pop trio based out of Northern Michigan. Band members are: Mark Blaauw-Hara (programming, bass, guitar), Jen Schaap (vocals and synths), and Ann Stebelton (vocals and piano). Influences include: Sylvan Esso, Haerts, Cults, and Phantogram. As individuals, Blaauw-Hara tends to lean on Radiohead and progressive metal like TOOL, while Schapp and Stebelton gravitate more towards artists like Joni Mitchell. In their won words: Lyrically Sky and Signal tend to focus on a connection with the natural world. This band is less than a year old, but have been playing together for around six years in other musical projects.
The EP gently takes flight with “Through the Window” a smooth intro groove that serves up inviting vocal presence, meshed against impressive guitar ambience, electronic-based rhythm section and mesmerizing vocal tandems from Schapp and Stebelton. Track 2 “Nothing to Fear” presents a striking, slow moving follow-up statement with methodical build against passionate melody that flows and ebbs it's way through to emotional fruition. Track 3 “Saviors” my personal favorite, delivers a hypnotic melody against impressive sonic ambience, and thought provoking lyrical content. Right from the starts I would classify this music as New Age Pop, or Ambient Vocal Pop, meshed with the better touches of Alternative Rock popular in the 90's. The production quality is impressive for a DIY artist, and the musical abilities of everyone involved is clearly above the bar. Along the way you will notice a wide array of instrumentation with things like well-placed Sampling and Electronica-Dub Sound Effects, Rhythm Guitar, Bass, Sonic Piano, Sporadic Percussion, Electric Piano, Lush Harmonies all built upon an electronic rhythm foundation. I really like how Schapp and Stebelton harmonize together and share the vocal duties collectively. Both deliver an impressive Mezzo Soprano vocal ability and fit together like a hand in glove. Both fill the sonic space peacefully and unobtrusively. Their vocal style is cut from the cloth of Cocteau Twins (Elizabeth Frazier) Sarah McLaughlin, Loreena McKennitt, Enya, Celine Dion and even The Cranberries. It definitely works well within the confines of this Sonic-Pop catalogue. I also like how their vocals flow and ebb with the music. Equally as impressive is the production instincts of Blaauw-Hara (programming, bass, and guitar). I get the impression he's the musical mastermind behind Sky Signal. All the Engineering aspects check out (Recording, Mixing, Mastering) as the CD possesses solid low end punch and crystal clear high end clarity. The Blood Moon (EP) from Sky and Signal delivers 4 compelling tracks that provide an interesting cross section between Sonic Pop and New Age Alternative. All 4 pieces are captivating, positive, passionate and consistent. The Blood Moon (EP) EP has something for just about everyone. EP ends with track 4 “Broken Down Wall” the perfect finale statement for an EP of this caliber.
All songs over 3.5 minutes tend to drag you to the finish line. Though the Electronic Drums provide some variety, it's fair to say they lack in thick low end frequency and punch. Whoever put these rhythmic tracks together gets an A for effort, however at the end of the say they sound overly robotic, synthetic and somewhat thin. Adding in a live drummer to go with the Electronic Drums, or bringing in an experience beat master would totally clear this last issue up. I also wish there were more solo segments throughout the EP. I typically deduct 1 star for EP releases, as the full length CD is the most complete snapshot to judge an artist by. Cover art is a bit lacking.
I like everything about Sky and Signal. All 3 members: Blaauw-Hara-Schaap-Stebelton possess a lot of potential as their sound will no doubt evolve and grow over the years to come. For the record this EP is a great place to springboard from, as every artist has to start from somewhere. The music is compelling, passionate, melodic, uplifting and mesmerizing. I look forward to hearing more material from Sky and Signal soon hopefully via a full length release later on this Summer.