Even though piano-centric singer/songwriters never seem to go out of style, piano-rock has had much less sustained success. Over the past two decades, the genre has flashes of critical and popular acclaim (Ben Folds Five! Something Corporate! Jack’s Mannequin! Relient K!) before diving back under the covers. Eric Schackne is the latest in a long line of musicians combining the melodious strains of piano with the pounding enthusiasm of pop/rock, and I greatly enjoy his tunes on the Hammers and Keys EP.
Schackne does include guitar in his tunes, unlike some piano-centric bands, but the keys take precedence. The pounding “This Classic Romance” takes it power from the clanging chords of the piano, while “Loud and Clear” pulls its energy from a frantic piano melody. Schackne’s smooth vocals offer a lot to the latter tune as well: the rapid-fire delivery and clever lyrics are reminiscent of Relient K’s Matt Thiessen. Schackne has a lower voice than Thiessen, and it fits with the bass-heavy mix that Schackne put together on most of the EP.
“The sound of my dreams coming true / is when I can leave the singing up to you,” belts Schackne, and it’s a sentiment than any pop musician can agree with wholeheartedly. A pop musician is what Schackne unabashedly is, as he throws down hummable melodies, crescendo-heavy choruses, and sweeping arrangements. He’s aiming high, and not just in musical quality; just from the titles of “Well Dressed Future” and “Art Can Change the World,” it’s clear that Shackne has aligned himself in the idealist optimist camp. And why not? Happy sounds, positive lyrics, great melodies; there’s a lot to be enthusiastic about in Hammers and Strings, both for Schackne and lovers of good piano-pop.