Tuesday, November 15, 2016

John Hickman – Remnants

John Hickman – Remnants

Hailing from the Northwest, John Hickman put his dreams of full-time musical glory on hold for many years while enjoying a lucrative career as an aerospace engineer. Shortly after 2010, Hickman bowed out of his profession and took an early retirement so he might have a chance to chase after his long delayed dreams. Hickman, since his 2011 debut, has released a number of singles to considerable acclaim and attention in the indie music community, but the release of his first full length album Remnants takes things a notch higher. This is a work of enormous pop sensibilities and artistic ambition. The best thing about Hickman, in the final respect, is that he’s never pretentious about his presentation. Despite the ground he covers on Remnants, the songwriting never meanders or succumbs to overkill.  

There’s plenty of chances for Hickman to overindulge himself, but he uniformly resists. One example of his taste and restraint is the song “Cascade”. For such a gentle title, one might expect a moderate toned or mid-tempo piece, but Hickman overturns expectations from the outset. The drum and synth introduction is ripped straight from the eighties/early nineties progressive rock handbook, but the song’s unique lyric turns and Hickman’s distinctive presence on vocals make it far from imitative. Hickman hits listeners with a blast of pure rock dynamics on the track “Escape”. His inventiveness as a songwriter and willingness to confound even the shakiest of expectations is on display here. Some listeners, with a song title like this, might expect the band to serve up something frantic, uptempo, but Hickman’s “Escape” sounds like it’s composed under pressure and full of fire.

“Paris Is Burning” is one of the album’s first half-turns, at least, into the ballad form and introduces listeners to that side of his musical talent with its solid writing and unshakable performance. Hickman’s confidence remains high and unflappable throughout the album, but instead of prompting him to toss these songs off like asides, the confidence focuses his efforts and makes the performances often quite transcendent.  “Remnants of the Human Race” finds Hickman engaging a little social commentary, but his gifts as a lyricist make the experience much lighter than it might have otherwise played. One of the album’s real sleepers, in terms of quality, is “Soiled Dove”. The song does a superb job of capturing the essence of a character with only a few well chosen broad strokes and the music complements the lyric perfectly.

“Talk” is, perhaps, the album’s most direct nod to the eighties’ progressive rock and sounds like Hickman listened to ample amount of prime Asia. His voice doesn’t quite have the lower register gravitas of John Wetton, but he isn’t merely a musician with an ear for good melodies, but understands how to sing them as well. The ballads compromising the album’s final lap have a strongly cinematic atmosphere and a gradually escalating grandeur that Hickman’s voice matches well. Among them, “What Have You Done?” scales the highest peak among a group of other exemplary tracks.  

9 out of 10 stars 

Shannon Cowden

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