In late 2004/early 2005, I bought a copy of Scales of Motion‘s self-titled EP. I admired them as elder statesmen in the Tulsa scene; as a high-school kid in my first band, I was awestruck that high-quality indie-rock existed in my hometown.
Jump forward to mid-2011, and Scales of Motion is still at it. If they members were elder statesmen then, they’re Methuselahs now. Yet, not much has changed: 2004’s Scales of Motion and 2011’s Nocturnes feature the same three guys: Chris Skillern (bass/vocals), Kevin Skillern (Guitar/bgvs) and Craig Maricle (drums). The band used the same studio for both sessions (Valcour Sound, in which I have recorded twice). Their 2011 wiry, post-punk-influenced indie-rock songs are not drastically different than their 2004 tunes.
But there is some variation. Nocturnes shows the band leaning toward the more pop-oriented side of its sound: slow-paced opener “Darkness” hangs on the vocal performance instead of the instrumentals. The band is content to set a mood than pummel the listener with riffs, as there are less breakdowns and gritty guitar sections than I expected to hear on Nocturnes.
Chris Skillern has always propelled the sound with his bass work; his angular, forceful riffs play the role of bass and rhythm guitar. Kevin Skillern contributes melodic, single-note runs and riffs over that work. That’s still the case for the majority of the album, but “Darkness” shows that they’ve grown in their confidence enough to not rely entirely on their tried-and-true formula. And while following track “Still We Sing” definitely is a classic Chris Skillern bass riff, the vocal melodies are just as important to the mood.
I noted in my quick overview that their post-punk influences add some edges to their pop songs, and their pop side knocks some of the edges off their post-punk work . “Still We Sing” is the former, but third track “Winter Heart” is very clearly the latter.
For my money, I enjoy the “Winter Heart” style most. Skillern’s high voice sounds best when it’s matched with some tough indie-rock to ground it — without a tether, Scales starts to sound like just another indie-pop band, and that’s not what they are at all. Chris Skillern even drops in a MeWithoutYou-esque spoken-word section, which just amps up the intensity even more. It’s a highlight of the album, and an example of what makes them special.
The bass, guitar and vocals lock into the inspired drum work on the rhythmic “Holier Mysteries.” It’s hard to explain how powerful Craig Maricle is when he’s drumming, but he’s one of the most intense skinsmen I’ve ever witnessed. He makes “Holier Mysteries” into the powerhouse it is. The rawness of the performance helps draw comparisons to The Felix Culpa, which, if you’ve read me gush about TFC, you know is high praise.
The rest of the album splits its time between nice pop tunes and tough indie-rock. On one side, “Hope” includes a harmonica and “My Beloved” sounds like what you think it might; the other, “A Better Dream” shows Kevin Skillern mashing out chords.
But the two sounds aren’t completely disparate; the mood overall is cohesive, and the album definitely feels of one piece. The lyrics also help the unity of the disc, being predominantly concerned with the day-to-day workings of the Christian life.
“Winter Heart,” “Holier Mysteries” and “A Better Dream” are some of the most satisfying rock tunes I’ve heard yet this year. The rest of the album, while not as arresting, is good. If old-school Appleseed Cast ate Death Cab for Cutie, it might sound something like this. Also, the album artwork (not just the cover, but the whole CD package) is gorgeous, and it has my vote for art of the year so far.
It has been a wild and woolly couple of months here at Independent Clauses (and by that, I mean in my life, as I am currently the only breathing part of IC). I have not listened to as much music as I would have liked. I have fallen down on the hobby. I would say the job, but I still go to work every day.
I’m not really sure what I mean by woolly, other than alliteration.
All this to say, I haven’t heard Scales of Motion’s Nocturnes near as much as I would like to have heard, and that disappoints me. I’m going to see them on Saturday at Norman Music Festival, and I would suggest you do the same. Their brand of indie-rock splits the difference between rhythmic, mathy post-hardcore (which was their roots – this band’s been around a long time) and pop melodies. The sheen gets knocked off some of the melodies, and some of the rhythmic stuff isn’t as intense as it used to be.
Instead of being lame, this is a good thing. The songs all resonate, whether accenting one side or the other of their sound. I’ll give it a more thorough review sometime, but here’s what I want to say: it’s good. Buy it. Go to their NMF4 show on Saturday. You’ll like it. Also, the artwork for the album is gorgeous. Top of the year so far.