When the lead singer of a band describes his debut album as "musical theater," you never know what you're going to get. Personally, that statement made me think that it could be as thick on the cheese as The Darkness was back in the day. On the other hand, it could be a sonic cluster. Sufjan Steven's Illinoise
comes to mind with its lush instrumentation and catchy melodies. Turns out The Janks are neither. Their debut album, Hands Of Time
, is undeniably theatrical—but not in the way that one might expect. They successfully mix genres like classic rock, blues, and folk with dynamic melodies to tell the story of a boy coming from a broken home with universal appeal to all types of ears.
The first few cuts of the album is mainly comprised of softer, more relaxed songs where The Janks are able to show off their melodic chops. This part of the album also serves as the first part of the story, showing how a young boy deals with the pains of having abusive parents. The album kicks off with the title track, a playful tune mainly comprised of acoustic guitar and matched by Dylan Zmed's melody and a circus like piano riff that can't help but make a listener smile. Don't be fooled by the light-heartedness of the opening track. It soon devolves into a slow cadence punctuated by a distorted guitar. Although the fireworks aren't happening quite yet, it leaves the impression that some are on the way, like a lovely bit of musical foreshadowing.
The first hints at The Janks darker side start with the second track. "Is this just the way that the world turns, turns, turns / Is this just the way that the body burns, burns, burns," sings Dylan Zmed on the rolling ballad of "Billy The Kid." The dark lyrical content doesn't match the soft piano or timbre of Zmed's voice as he harmonizes with his band mates, but it is the marriage of the dark and the light that, not only serve to tell the story of a boy coping with his family, but also make one hell of a song.
The second half of the album plays through like straightforward rock n' roll. The harmonies that marked the A-side are still there but with a little more oomph behind them. The songs can get downright heavy, and the sharp change in tone starts with "Rat Racers." Zmed does his best Jack White impersonation with the rest of the band abandoning the fleshed out harmonies of earlier tracks for the upfront abrasiveness of distorted bass, heavy guitars, and staccato rhythms. "This is how we get through / Addicted to money and sex," goes the chorus, showcasing the Janks ability to diversify their emotional palate. "Drama King's Ball" starts out like a side show of a song with bass and guitar at odds with each other rhythmically. Things get darker, and heavier, when the piano comes in with a ominous riff. The song plays with its darker tone before finally erupting into the chaotic ending where Zmed delivers in a creepy monotone "I love you / She says you don't love me / I'll f*cking kill you in your sleep." The lyrics get more unpleasant from there.
With their debut album, The Janks manage to gives two different sides of the same coin. When you flip it, you might get heads, the softer, more upbeat side, full of beautiful harmonies and quiet acoustic guitars accompanied by playful, melodic piano parts. Flip it again and you might get tails, the side that comes at your ears like a bat out of hell, assaulting them with heavy beats, foreboding keys, and distressful lyrics. But no matter what side of the coin you get, you're glad that you get to keep it in your pocket.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
MP3: "Billy The Kid"