(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, September 30, 2011

CD review - Sills & Smith, Uncertain Vista (2011)

Split personality: we will, we will rock/folk you!

Uncertain Vista sprawls for 60 minutes and 21 songs, allowing enough room for the two or three bands playing to each show off their signature sounds. Of the collection, I prefer the indie rock centered band the most, but the musicianship is strong across the board. Of course, it's not a collection of bands, it's just the split personalities of Sills and Smith, jumping between indie/alt rock and Americana (Canadian style)/folk.

This dichotomy would have worked better if they had split the album accordingly, but the songs jump from sound to sound, sometimes disconcertingly. When the appropriately named Ominous fades down from its dark. chaotic tension into the delicate slide intro of Water, it's hard to shake the dissonance.

Despite the roller coaster sequencing, there is a streak of continuity on Uncertain Vista tied to the lead vocal sound, the balanced song arrangements, tight harmonies, and the exceptional bass work.

The first three songs start out on the indie rock side, with A Writer's Retreat creating some beautiful music. The see saw rhythmic start features some harmonic note textures that contrast nicely with the wide open flow of the chorus. The electric guitar is wonderful, creating a counterpoint of sounds that balance the structured arrangement of the other instruments. Similarly, on Inside/Outside, the electric guitar adds character, largely by being less anchored to the Police-like main guitar figure.

Spiraling Down's shift to a more Americana feel is the first indication that Uncertain Vista was veering for other targets. The repetitive melody lines and swaying rhythm is pleasant and the lead has a nice Roger McGuinn feel. But it's out of step with the earlier songs.

Picking some favorite moments, Crux of the Matter is a strong alt-rocker with a power pop edge. The driving beat lays down a foundation for a John Entwistle bass line that melodically toys with the groove. The psychedelic guitar solo drifts through the break leaving little flecks of golden fuzz. On the folkier side, the aforementioned Water has a gentle folk rock vibe. The arrangement is simple, but allows enough room for the slide guitar accents in the spaces left by the hesitant acoustic guitar. The vocal harmonies are solid, matching the laid back feel. The imagery and lyrical flow is smoother here than some of the other songs.

It's good for a band to have an eclectic range of songs. Sills and Smith's musical talent and skill at arrangement shows off their versatility. With better song sequencing or judicious editing, Uncertain Vista would have been a stronger offering.

Drop by ReverbNation and give Sills and Smith a listen.

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