Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Skyline Circle Rounds Up Some Upbeat Piano-Pop

November 12, 2009

I am addicted to pop music. I play it, I listen to it, I write about it. So when a band comes along that delivers brain-grabbing melodies, singalongs, and musical skill to boot, I jump on that like a trampoline. Thus, cue the applause for Skyline Circle.

Skyline Circle consists of a pianist/vocalist, a guitarist/bassist/female vocalist and a drummer. If that sounds like a lot of duties for three people, it is. But they pull it off excellently. Whether playing the bouncy, upbeat single “Don’t Let Go (Merry-Go-Round),” the driving “Silent War,” the lighthearted and fun “Late” or the pensive “Time and Money,” they fit neatly into a groove and hit it.

This is primarily accomplished because Nathan Lauderdale is a versatile pianist, able to play in multiple styles. He expertly channels Ben Folds on the “The Letter Folds” – an open letter to the famous pianist. He nods to Relient K in form and lyric on opener “Time and Money,” and he releases emotive balladry for closer “Waiting.” None of these sound forced. There are differing levels of prowess at each (“Silent War” gives me shivers, while “Road Trip” takes a while to make an impact), but the underlying thread is the same: Nathan Lauderdale is really good at piano.

The vocals, both female and male, are excellent throughout. If there was to be a signature style of Skyline Circle, it would be their use of vocals to create mood. The moments in which they use background vocals are the most memorable: the la-la section in “Late”, the chorus of “The Letter Folds” (which also features some impressive falsetto leads), the round on “Don’t Let Go,” and the majority of title track “Lights in Perfect Rows.” They don’t just use it as a throwaway element in their songs; the use of multiple vocal tracks sets their songs apart from other artists.

The highlights here are many, but the crescendo of “Lights in Perfect Rows” is worth mention. Skyline relies heavily on piano and bass, so the use of electric guitar to make the statement in the most important part of the song is unique and memorable. If the guitar had been used in the same capacity throughout, the power of the moment would have been diminished. Their ability to notice and use that weapon in their arsenal sparingly is a direct nod to their songwriting skill.

And while they are definitely skilled songwriters, the many moods that this album spans create a somewhat jarring effect on the listener. Many albums have mood shifts, but Lights in Perfect Rows never establishes a consistent mood that would enable mood shifts. This makes the album excellent to listen to in singles or on shuffle, but a bit confusing to listen to as a whole.

Lights in Perfect Rows establishes Skyline Circle as a band with solid, enjoyable songwriting skills. They need to settle into a consistent groove that runs throughout their songs, but within each song they know what they’re doing. Fans of Ben Folds, Ben Kweller, Regina Spektor, and other piano-based pop will love this release. Check out “Silent War,” “Don’t Let Go (Merry-Go-Round)” and “Late.”

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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